LOS ANGELES (Feb. 3)
The Palestinian delegation will not return to the Middle East peace talks as long as even one of the men deported by Israel to Lebanon is not repatriated, the head of the delegation warned this week.
Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi made the categorical statement during an interview here Tuesday. He dismissed as meaningless a decision Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to allow 100 Palestinians deported Dec. 17 to return immediately and to permit the return of the remaining 300 before the end of the year.
In Washington, there were strong indications that the issue has already delayed the resumption of the multilateral phase of the peace talks.
Two of the five multilateral working groups on regional issues were to have convened early next week, one on arms control, which was to meet in Washington, and the other on economic development, which was to meet in Rome.
The State Department acknowledged Wednesday that invitations for those meetings had not yet been issued.
“We’re consulting with our Russian co-sponsors, and we would expect to have a decision fairly soon on the timing for the next round for those talks,” said spokesman Richard Boucher.
“We have to talk to the Russians first about suggesting the dates, the oral invitations for people to come to the talks,” he added.
As for the bilateral talks, in which Israel is negotiating separately with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians, there is no indication yet when they will resume.
WARNS ABOUT U.S. VETO
But Abdel-Shafi made clear, during a luncheon talk at the Town Hall of California here, that Israel’s decision to take back 100 of the Moslem fundamentalists it deported is “not enough” to bring the Palestinians back to the peace table.
“The deportations are a basic violation of human rights,” he said. “To accept them would be a disservice to the principles of human rights.”
The Gaza Strip physician took a somewhat more ambiguous position on Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist movement whose leadership, Israel says, makes up the bulk of the deportees.
Abdel-Shafi said the U.S. State Department’s plan to classify Hamas officially as a terrorist organization is unjustified.
“We are aware of Hamas, and we’re dealing with them ourselves, without any Israeli help,” he said. “We are sure there are many in Hamas who are not prone to carry out terrorist acts. To generalize in this way serves no useful purpose.”
But later, he said that the moderate Palestinians he represents disagree with Hamas on “the killing of innocent people in cold blood.”
The Palestinian leader warned that if the United States ends up vetoing a possible U.N. Security Council resolution imposing punitive sanctions against Israel over the deportation issue, it will have a “catastrophic” effect on Washington’s standing in the Arab world.
Responding to questions from a group of high school students at the luncheon, Abdel-Shafi said he was in touch with the Peace Now movement in Israel, but considered its effectiveness “very marginal.”
He voiced disappointment at the fact that Cabinet ministers of the dovish Meretz bloc backed the original deportation move, saying their support was “very surprising and painful.”
He also said he had met with some American Jewish leaders during his current trip, whose main purpose he described as meeting with relatives in San Jose, Calif. and Chicago.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Deborah Kalb of States News Service in Washington.)