News Analysis: Palestinians Return to an Israel with a New Political Landscape

The Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks returned Monday from 11 days of consultations in Jordan to find a dramatically changed political landscape waiting for them on the other side of the Allenby Bridge.

The 17 Palestinians were greeted by Israeli police investigators, who questioned them about their public meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat.

But they were released without bail, amid general expectation that the newly elected Israeli Knesset would overturn the law barring meetings with PLO officials.

That is not the only change expected from the new government that Yitzhak Rabin is expected to form by mid-July. Even though Palestinians do not like the Labor Party leader, remembering his role in suppressing the intifada as defense minister, they are willing to give him the chance for a dialogue.

“In politics, there is no room for sentiments — only for interests,” said Ziyad Abu-Ziyad, the delegation’s legal adviser.

Speaking at a news conference in Jericho after the brief interrogation, Faisal Husseini, the unofficial leader of the delegation, was guarded, saying he did not want to comment on the new government until it was actually formed.

Privately, however, Palestinian moderates say the defeat of Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud has boosted their morale. Not so much because of the promise of dramatic developments as for the boost that the dramatic election returns gave to the status of moderates within the Palestinian community.

In recent months, Moslem fundamentalists and rejection-front activists have attacked Husseini and other mainstream Palestinian leaders for having few political gains to show from the peace negotiations.

Now, the Palestinian delegation can point to the Labor victory as proof they have changed the Israeli mood toward the peace process.

MORATORIUM ON ATTACKS URGED

Along those lines, one leader from the Gaza Strip this week challenged the population of the administered territories to “help” the moderates of Labor and Meretz assume power.

Dr. Hatem Abu-Ghazala, who heads an education network of some 4,000 students, urged Palestinians to put an end “to the indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians.”

Abu-Ghazala told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that such a development would help legitimize dovish views within the Israeli population and speed up the peace process.

Coming from a Palestinian leader who until the beginning of the intifada identified with the PLO’s mainstream, these views are surprising.

Abu-Ghazala further suggested that within the context of an overall settlement, the Gaza Strip should be handed over to joint Egyptian-Jordanian control, which would “return law and order to the Gaza Strip.”

Egypt would not shrug off responsibility for the Gaza Strip, which it held until 1967, if it were officially approached by the Palestinians, he said. Ultimately, he said, Gaza and the West Bank should be linked in some form to Jordan.

Such a “Jordanian option” would certainly be to the liking of Rabin, who favors territorial compromise but is loath to accept a Palestinian state.

So far, however, the Palestinian delegation has only hinted at the possibility of matching changes in Israel’s negotiating positions with moderation of its own stance.

“We shall see what steps the new government takes, and only then shall we react with our own measures,” said Husseini.

‘CANNOT NEGOTIATE WITH GHOSTS’

Real progress in the peace process would change the patterns of the intifada, he said, but he stopped short of saying it was time to call off the uprising.

“The new government creates a new situation, since it is ready for territorial compromises and self-administration in the territories,” Abu-Ziyad said as he arrived at his home in Abu Dis, just east of Jerusalem.

But he warned that the Rabin government would not be able to bypass the PLO forever.

“One cannot negotiate with ghosts, and once an agreement will be signed, it will have to be signed with the legitimate representative of the people, the PLO,” said Abu-Ziyad.

The ground rules for the peace talks prohibit the participation of PLO members. But the Shamir government turned a blind eye to the widely reported and acknowledged meetings of the Palestinian delegation with PLO officials.

The meeting two weeks ago with Arafat threatened to become a political storm because it took place in plain view of the television cameras, just days before the Israeli elections.

But Husseini made no apologies. During the armed struggle, he had met Arafat secretly, he said. Now that he meets with Arafat to discuss peace, “why keep it secret?”

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