News Analysis; Israel Still Fears a PLO Presence Behind Palestinian Conference Team
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News Analysis; Israel Still Fears a PLO Presence Behind Palestinian Conference Team

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The Palestinian delegates to the Middle East peace conference have been chosen, and most of the names on the list, though it is still unofficial, are known.

Now Israel is confronted with a dilemma it suspected all along it would have to face: that the carefully screened representatives with no obvious ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization have indirect links to the organization and, moreover, will be reporting to a leader with strong PLO fealty.

There appears to be no way around it. If Israel consents to sit down with the Palestinians chosen for the peace conference, it will find itself negotiating, albeit indirectly, with the PLO.

Faisal Husseini, considered by Israel to be the leading local representative of the PLO, will not be a member of the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, because Israel objects to including residents of East Jerusalem.

But Husseini, who has represented the Palestinians in negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker on the terms of the peace conference, will head an advisory council to the Palestinians going to the conference in Madrid.

He is expected to serve as the conduit of information between the negotiators and the PLO leadership in Tunis.

In this way, Israel’s rigid refusal to do business with the PLO or Palestinians living in East Jerusalem has been honored — and quickly circumvented.

Several members of the Palestinian team have strong allegiances to the PLO.

It will reportedly be headed by Dr. Haidar Abed Shafi, 71, chairman in the Gaza Strip of the Red Crescent Association, which is overseen by Yasir Arafat’s brother, Fathi Arafat. Shafi, who is considered a moderate, was one of the founders of the PLO and is still a staunch supporter.


The delegation is said to include, among others, Radwan Abu Ayyash, a prominent journalist identified with the PLO’s mainstream Al Fatah wing; Azariah al-Agha, a Gaza physician who has met with Baker and who is also associated with Fatah; and Ali Abu Hillal, a member of Nayef Hawatmeh’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was deported from the territories but allowed to return in September.

One particularly problematic name arises with Sameh Cana’an, 38, from Nablus, who served 12 years in jail after being convicted of terrorist activity for Fatah.

Cana’an is the son of a Jewish woman named Mazal who converted to Islam in the 1940s to marry into one of the leading families of Nablus. According to halacha, or traditional Jewish law, that would make Cana’an a Jew.

Internal differences within the Palestinian camp could cast a shadow over the peace talks.

Activists of the Islamic fundamentalist organization Hamas and of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine spent the weekend smearing walls with slogans urging the public to step up opposition to the peace talks.

In an effort to pre-empt increased intifada violence, security forces arrested dozens of Hamas activists and other radical elements.

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