The Bush Administration issued visas Wednesday permitting three Palestine Liberation Organization officials to attend weekend meetings at Columbia University with Israeli doves, including members of the Knesset or Parliament.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the Administration waived a 15-year-old law banning PLO members from U.S. visits because none of the three officials--Nabil Shath, Afif Safiyah and Noha Nicholas Tadros--have had “personal involvement in terrorist activity.”
But the Administration, at the same time, refused to let the mayors of Managua, Panama City and Havana attend an international drug abuse conference sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which began in New York on Wednesday. Redman said those visa requests were rejected because Nicaragua, Panama and Cuba have not cooperated with U.S.-backed narcotics control programs.
Redman brushed aside complaints of conference organizers that the session’s purpose was to encourage effective action against drugs.
Organizers of the Columbia University meeting say they hope it will pave the way for negotiations between Israel and the PLO, although the session will be attended primarily by moderates who have long favored such a dialogue. Hard-liners on both sides will not be included.
Previously, the Administration issued a visa to Faisal Husseini, director of the Arab Study Center in Jerusalem, who was recently released from 18 months of administrative detention by Israeli authorities. They had accused him of illegal activities on the PLO’s behalf.
But Reuters news agency reported from Jerusalem that Israel has refused to permit Mustafa Natshe, deposed mayor of the West Bank town of Hebron, to attend the symposium. Natshe, removed from office by Israel in 1983 as a result of Arab unrest in the Israeli-occupied territory, is closely associated with the PLO, although he is not officially a member.
Israeli representatives at the conference include Shulamit Aloni and Yair Tsaban, leftist Knesset members. Also included is Yehoshaphat Harkabi, a former chief of Israel’s military intelligence service.
American participants include Edward W. Said, a Columbia professor who is a member of the Palestine National Council, the PLO “parliament in exile,” and Rita Hauser, an international lawyer who participated in a meeting last year in Stockholm between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and prominent American Jews. The Stockholm talks led to Arafat’s acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist and his renunciation of terrorism as a political tactic.