JERUSALEM (Aug. 5)
A political storm has erupted here in the wake of reports that a Cabinet minister and a Knesset member met recently with a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official in Cairo.
Although such meetings have been held before — ever since the law banning meetings with the PLO was abolished last year — this time the discussions reportedly were made with the approval of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Such a meeting would be the first ever at such a high level with the approval of an Israeli leader.
According to Israel Radio, Environment Minister Yossi Sarid and Knesset member Dedi Zucker, both members of the dovish Meretz bloc, met in late July with Nabil Sha’ath, a senior adviser to PLO leader Yasir Arafat.
The meeting reportedly took place shortly before Israel’s weeklong shelling of southern Lebanon began July 25.
The news touched off heated debates between those Israelis who believe that peace will be achieved only with PLO involvement in the negotiations and those who object to any discussions with what they view as a terrorist group.
Officially, neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor Meretz would confirm or deny the reports. Meretz, however, did issue a list of reasons justifying such a meeting.
Another Meretz Cabinet member, Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban, said every such meeting can contribute to the peace process.
But some Labor Party hawks, such as Economics Minister Shimon Shetreet and Transportation Minister Yisrael Kessar, said such meetings undermine Israel’s stand in the peace process.
Shetreet said such meetings conflict with a basic tenet of Israeli policy, which excludes the PLO from the peace negotiations.
The Cabinet is said to be almost equally divided between ministers recognizing the role of the PLO in the peace talks and those who oppose their involvement.