Palestinians Are Deeply Divided over Decision to Return to Talks

There is deep division in Palestinian ranks over the decision to resume peace talks with Israel next week.

One indication of that disunity was a rare public warning against civil strife issued Thursday by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mainstream Al Fatah faction.

In the first statement of its kind since the peace talks began in October 1991, Fatah warned those opposing the new round of negotiations that it would deal “with an iron fist” against whoever dares to harm members of the Palestinian delegation or their families.

The warning, contained in pamphlets distributed throughout the administered territories, was issued following repeated threats received by members of the delegation prior to the decision to resume negotiations with Israel.

Four masked men had threatened the lives of the family of Saeb Erekat of Jericho, and similar threats were made against Faisal Husseini, now the official head of the Palestinian delegation.

But the divisions in the Palestinian camp are not merely between the moderates and the rejectionists, but among the moderates themselves as well.

Significantly, the announcement that the Palestinians would return to the talks was made not by the negotiating delegation but by PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

Arafat reportedly decided to back a return to the talks after Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal pledged that the Persian Gulf states would resume financial aid to the PLO that had been cut off since it backed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

‘REAL ACHIEVEMENTS’ BADLY NEEDED

Haidar Abdel-Shafi, who had chaired the Palestinian delegation until Husseini assumed the post, said in a radio interview Thursday that the PLO had agreed to Palestinian participation in the new round of peace talks, in order “to preserve Arab unity.”

But Abdel-Shafi, who had opposed returning to the talks until Israel made more concessions, warned that the Palestinians would suspend the talks if their demands were not met during the round of negotiations that begins on Tuesday.

Ziad Abu-Ziad, an adviser to the Palestinian delegation, said Thursday that developments on the first day of the resumed talks would be crucial to the Palestinians, who need “real achievements” to win over public opinion in the territories.

The opposition to the talks includes the Moslem fundamentalist groups and the rejectionist front secular organizations, led by George Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The mainstream elements in the Palestinian political community are emphasizing the strength of the opposition to the peace talks in the territories, hoping to impress Israeli public opinion that Israeli concessions are needed fast.

“The opposition is there,” said Abu-Ziad, who is aligned with Fatah, “and the achievements of the peace process within the very near future will decide whether this opposition will put an end to the peace process or will start to deescalate and give rise to more support for the peace process.”

NEXT STORY