JERUSALEM (Mar. 9)
Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin summoned Britain’s ambassador to Israel this week and formally protested his country’s decision to resume ministerial-level meetings with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
British Foreign Office Minister Douglas Hogg met Tuesday with two PLO officials and Faisal Hussein, the unofficial chief of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks.
The meeting marked a reversal of policy for London, which suspended high-level contacts with the PLO during the Persian Gulf War, when the PLO leadership proclaimed its allegiance to Saddam Hussein.
Beilin issued a statement that said the decision came at “a critical juncture” and could hurt the prospects for reconvening the peace talks.
“It constitutes a prize for Palestinians who have yet to announce their willingness to return to the process,” Beilin said.
But the British said the purpose of the meeting was precisely to urge the Palestinians to return to the peace talks.
Hogg met with Hael Fahoun, the head of the PLO’s European section; Afif Safieh, the PLO’s London representative; and Husseini,
Hogg reported after the meeting that he had stressed the importance of restarting the bilateral talks.
The Palestinians said they had expressed to Hogg their eagerness to return to the talks but emphasized that the deportee crisis had to be resolved first. Following the meeting, Husseini reported he was optimistic that a solution would be found.
The meeting apparently was more of symbolic than substantive value.
Israeli officials speculated on Israel Radio that Britain is looking for a role to play in the peace process and, after defending Israel during the deportation crisis, wanted to make this gesture to the PLO to appear “evenhanded.”
Some warned it would send a dangerous signal to the PLO that the formula for the talks established at Madrid could be changed. That formula bars representatives from abroad from participating formally in the Palestinian delegation to the bilateral talks. This effectively excludes officials from the PLO, based in Tunis.