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PLO Book on Secret Contacts Unleashes a Political Uproar

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A political uproar was unleashed here this week following the publication of the memoirs of a Palestine Liberation Organization official who claimed that representatives of the PLO and the Labor Party had collaborated to defeat Likud in the 1992 Israeli elections.

In the just-published “The Road to Oslo,” PLO official Mahmoud Abbas claimed that PLO representative Said Kanaan of Nablus had secretly met with a Labor Party official to discuss the defeat of the then-governing hard-line Likud bloc.

The Labor official was later identified by Israel Radio as Ephraim Sneh. Currently Israel’s health minister, Sneh was then security adviser to party leader Yitzhak Rabin, who emerged victorious in the 1992 elections.

Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, played a key behind-the-scenes role in the secret negotiations held in Oslo, Norway, that led to the signing of the Palestinian self-rule accord in Washington in September 1993.

Members of the opposition in Israel have demanded a thorough investigation into the alleged meetings, which, if true, took place prior to the repeal of an Israeli law banning contacts with the PLO.

Labor and PLO officials have denied the claims contained in the book.

Sneh said he had met Kanaan once in Herzliya, after the Labor Party primaries in 1992, but he said there was no coordination of any kind regarding the elections.

“All the allegations of coordination of the Labor Party and the PLO prior to the 1992 elections is a total lie,” Sneh told Israel Radio. “I had one single meeting with the Palestinian businessman Kanaan. We had a political discussion, but nothing of it could be interpreted as strategic or tactical cooperation between the Labor Party and the PLO.”

Sneh also maintained that the Labor Party had issued a directive to avoid any meetings with Palestinians in the months prior to the elections, in order to prevent “any sort of pretext for our enemies to accuse us of such things.”

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said the statements in the book had been misinterpreted.

Furthermore, Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, said during a news conference that Mazen had not written the controversial passages in the book.

“When a leader of the status of Abu Mazen writes a book, he does not write everything in that book,” Tibi said. “One of Abu Mazen’s senior aides” had written certain sections “as though they were the truth.”

The uproar led the Likud Political Forum, which convened to discuss the issue, to demand that a state board of inquiry be formed to investigate the matter.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said the claims in Abu Mazen’s book, of which excerpts were printed earlier this year, only confirmed what he had already suspected.

Shamir said there were other meetings between Labor and PLO officials, including one involving Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and some leading Palestinians.

But Shamir denied other passage in the book which claimed that Likud personalities, including Ariel Sharon and Moshe Arens, had sought meetings with Arafat.

Moshe Amirav, a former member of the Likud Central Committee, confirmed that he had met with PLO officials when such contacts were illegal, Israel Radio reported.

Amirav said the meetings were conducted with the full knowledge of Shamir and then-Defense Minister Arens.

Shamir said he knew of no such meetings and denied that there had been contacts of any kind between the PLO and Likud representatives.

Arens made similar denials.

The book was published as both Labor and Likud are positioning themselves for the 1996 elections.

Last week, Time magazine’s daily computer service cited a secret Labor Party poll which projected that Labor would be heavily defeated by Likud if elections were held now.

Rabin later called the report a lie and said no such poll had been conducted.

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