Head of Palestinian Team to Stay on Despite Opposition to Resuming Talks

Haidar Abdel-Shafi will remain, at least for now, as head of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks with Israel.

The decision was made after intensive deliberations at the West Bank home of Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi on Saturday, a day before the delegation left for Washington.

Last week, reports said Faisal Husseini, already chief adviser to the delegation, would be named the new head under an agreement worked out with Israel, which had previously objected to Husseini because he lives in eastern Jerusalem.

It was unclear whether disagreement within the Palestinian camp or continued Israeli objections blocked Husseini’s appointment as chief negotiator.

Abdel-Shafi reportedly wanted to resign his post, because he objected to returning to the peace talks before the Islamic extremists deported by Israel last December to Lebanon were allowed to return to the administered territories.

The Gaza leader apparently was angry that the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership overruled the delegation’s recommendation that it not resume talks with Israel until this matter could be resolved to the Palestinians’ satisfaction.

But Abdel-Shafi was persuaded to continue on as head of the team.

“We are going to go,” he said. “We are going to respect the decision of our leadership.”

Yet not all the delegation members agreed. Two members of the team from the Communist Party will boycott the Washington talks.

ARAFAT PREDICTS STATE IN 18 MONTHS

Meanwhile, PLO leader Yasir Arafat defended the decision to return to the talks. The PLO leadership said in a statement that there had been several achievements that had paved the way for the Palestinians’ return, including matters related to Jerusalem, deportations and the role of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Arafat also is presumed to have received assurances that if the Palestinian team returned to the talks, the Persian Gulf states would resume financial aid to the PLO that had been cut off after the PLO backed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

At the same time, Arafat was reported as saying in a BBC radio interview Sunday that resistance in the territories would continue until Israel gives up the territories.

In the interview, Arafat also said he was confident an independent Palestinian state would be created within 18 months.

In Washington, preparations for the peace talks were under way. An Israeli advance team, led by negotiator Elyakim Rubinstein, arrived Friday and began consultations with State Department officials.

In Israel, government officials said a number of gestures, including the return of Palestinians deported several years ago and concessions to ease conditions in the territories, were expected as the talks got under way.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying that the Palestinians would be able to form their own police force in the territories, even before a final autonomy agreement was signed.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip denounced the proposal, saying they would continue to fire upon armed Palestinians.

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