TEL AVIV (Aug. 21)
Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat is blaming Israel for the PLO’s delay in revoking chapters in the organization’s charter that call for the destruction of Israel.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Gaza City last Friday, Arafat said the anti-Israel clauses of the PLO charter could not be changed because Israel is not allowing all 480 members of the Palestine National Council to enter the Gaza Strip to attend a meeting at which a vote to change the charter would be taken.
In a show of disharmony rare at diplomatic news conferences, Peres, appearing disturbed, interrupted Arafat to say to reporters, “I told the chairman we shall not object to have the PNC meet in Gaza, and (we) invite all its members to come and participate in the meeting.”
At which point Arafat appeared to throw the whole issue into question, saying he could not guarantee that the PNC would change the anti-Israel clauses.
Arafat has repeatedly maintained in the past that he would call for the repeal of those sections of the PLO charter that call for the destruction of Israel.
His promise served in part as the basis for the mutual recognition pact between Israel and the PLO that enabled the two parties to sign the declaration of principles on Palestinian self-rule last September in Washington.
The highest-ranking Israeli official to visit Gaza since autonomy began there and in the West Bank enclave of Jericho in May, Peres met with Arafat and Norwegian Foreign Minister Bjorn Tore Godal last Friday.
The meeting marked the first anniversary of the agreement reached in Oslo, Norway, that set the stage for the Israeli-PLO peace accord.
During Friday’s news conference, Peres highlighted the issue of security, saying that the Palestinian leadership must stop attacks on Israelis by radical Palestinian groups if the peace accord is to succeed.
‘WE WILL NOT ACCEPT ANY CHALLENGE TO DISCIPLINE’
“It is in the Palestinian interest to fight terror,” Peres said. “You can’t develop Gaza and other areas if the terrorists prevent the development of tourism, industry and the like.”
Last week, Arafat ordered the detention of at least 30 members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, which has claimed responsibility for recent attacks on Israelis. Most of the detained, however, were later released.
“We will not accept any challenge to discipline in the Palestinian territories,” Arafat said at the news conference.
Arafat also used the occasion to renew his pleas for foreign assistance, which donor countries have pledged but withheld, demanding strict accounting procedures on the part of the PLO.
“Not to forget, we are starting from zero and we need help from all our friends everywhere,” Arafat said.
The Norwegian foreign minister said his country would help pay the salaries of the Palestinian police until the pledges of foreign assistance, estimated at $600 million for this year alone, begin to arrive.
Meanwhile, Peres used the occasion to announce that starting this week Israel would transfer responsibility for education to Palestinians throughout the West Bank.
“For the first time in history, the Palestinian people will be responsible for their own children, for their own education,” Peres said.
The move represented the first phase in the so-called “early empowerment,” the transfer to Palestinian control of such areas as education, health, tourism and taxation throughout the West Bank.
In a related development, Israeli officials announced last Friday the release of some 250 Palestinian prisoners on condition that they remain in the Jericho autonomous region until the end of their prison sentences.
Among those released were Palestinians convicted of killing fellow Arabs suspected of collaborating with Israel.
Israeli authorities said those released were the last of a total of 5,000 Palestinian prisoners Israel had promised to release under the terms of the May 4 Cairo agreement for implementing self-rule in Gaza and Jericho.
Officials said that any new prisoner releases would have to be negotiated in new talks.
Palestinians responded with demonstrations in Jerusalem on Saturday, demanding the release of all remaining prisoners.