Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told senior members of his Labor Alignment political party Wednesday night that the Palestine Liberation Organization has expressed its readiness to negotiate with Jerusalem, Israel Radio reported this morning.
The offer, if confirmed, would apparently be a breakthrough in itself since the PLO has traditionally refused to recognize Israel's right to exist. Conversely, Israeli governments for years have refused to negotiate with the PLO, saying it is nothing but a terrorist organization.
The agreement linking Peres' centrist Labor Alignment with the rightist Likud Bloc of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in the coalition government states as one condition of the alliance that "Israel will not negotiate with the PLO."
Sentiment Within Labor
However, particularly within Labor there is some sentiment, strengthened by the unrest that has swept the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than five weeks now, that Jerusalem must ultimately settle its differences with the Palestinians and that the PLO may be the only vehicle for doing so.
One longtime Israeli student of the conflict predicted this morning that while the government's official response to any offer would probably be negative, the initiative--if serious--may trigger a row and possibly even a split within Labor.
Shamir has this week renewed calls for negotiations with Egypt to implement those portions of the 1978 agreements negotiated at Camp David calling for Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post published Wednesday, the prime minister said that if other Arab nations were unwilling to talk about autonomy, Israel would in theory be ready to negotiate directly with local Palestinians.
Local Palestinian leaders have consistently maintained, however, that they have no authority to negotiate on behalf of the entire Palestinian people, more than half of whom are scattered throughout the Arab Middle East and elsewhere, and that the PLO is their sole legitimate representative.
According to Israel Radio, Peres told Labor Cabinet ministers Wednesday night that the offer had been communicated to both him and Shamir. The radio gave no further details.
Concession by Israel
Israeli Television's respected Arab affairs correspondent, Ehud Yaari, reported Wednesday, without attribution, that the PLO had indicated to the Israeli government its readiness to calm the situation in the territories in return for some political concession by Israel.
Yaari reported that the offer had been communicated through unnamed West Bank Palestinian leaders and other--presumably diplomatic--channels.
Despite its longstanding opposition to the PLO, Israel has in fact negotiated indirectly with it in the past. During 1982, when the Israeli army had PLO leader Yasser Arafat and thousands of his fighters surrounded in Beirut, the government negotiated an agreement by which they were allowed to leave Lebanon and disperse to other Arab countries.