JERUSALEM (Jan. 27)
The Moscow conference on Middle East regional issues faced a possible crisis on the eve of its Tuesday opening, when the Palestinians sent an enlarged delegation unacceptable to Israel, which the Russian hosts declined to accredit.
The Palestinians had been expected to boycott the conference, which is devoted to regional rather than bilateral issues.
But after a flurry of discussions with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership in Tunis gave the “green light” to attend.
The 11-member Palestinian contingent that headed for Moscow is not, however, composed of the same people who were part of the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation Israel dealt with at last fall’s peace conference in Madrid and at the subsequent two rounds of bilateral talks in Washington.
Haider Abdel-Shafi from the Gaza Strip, who headed the Palestinian negotiating team in Washington, did not go to Moscow.
The delegation that did go includes Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi and Zahira Kamal, all residents of East Jerusalem, and three other Palestinians who do not live in Israel or the administered territories.
Israel refuses to negotiate with residents of East Jerusalem or the “Palestinian diaspora.” Those bans were incorporated into the peace conference ground rules after months of arduous negotiations between Israeli leaders and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.
“We will talk to our American friends and reiterate our known and unequivocal stance: We will simply not allow this,” Foreign Minister David Levy, head of the Israeli delegation, told Israel Radio from Moscow.
Israel’s indignation seemed to be shared by the Russians. The Palestinian delegation will have to meet the same conditions that applied in Madrid, Russian spokesman Vladimir Petrovsky said.
The Palestinians, impatient with the restrictions Israel imposed on who can speak in their name, may be interested merely in making a gesture to affirm their autonomy.
By not defining the exact functions of their delegation, they left room for maneuvering with the Russians. Members of the PLO executive committee were reported Monday to be flying to Moscow from Tunis to discuss a compromise on representation.