PLO Debates Whether It Will Resume Peace Talks : Mideast: A delay seems likely. The leadership believes the Israeli crackdown doesn’t go far enough.
The PLO leadership, visibly dissatisfied with Israeli plans to crack down on Jewish settlers and release Palestinian prisoners, began debate Sunday about whether to resume negotiations with Israel or heed popular calls to pull out of the troubled peace process.
Palestine Liberation Organization sources said the Executive Committee, which began meeting late Sunday and was scheduled to resume deliberations today, will almost certainly reject President Clinton’s invitation to begin peace talks Wednesday in Washington, though it was prepared to leave the door open to commence the talks at a later date.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat said the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to arrest Jewish extremist leaders, disarm hard-core settlers and release 800 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners is “hollow snf superficial.” He demanded further security measures in the wake of Friday’s massacre of 48 Palestinians at a West Bank mosque.
“These are cosmetic measures only aimed at containing the crisis rather than reaching real solutions to the existing tension,” added Yasser Abed-Rabbo, head of the PLO Information Department. “What is requested are measures to stop the killing of Palestinian citizens.”
Related Mideast peace talks in Washington were suspended after delegates from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan decided to withdraw to show solidarity with the PLO and to return home for consultations, U.S. and Israeli officials said.
“The Arab parties to the bilateral talks informed the United States Sunday that due to the current circumstances and environment, they thought it best to forgo their talks scheduled for the next three days,” said a State Department official who asked that his name be withheld. “They made it clear they remain committed to the process.”
With popular demonstrations breaking out in many parts of the Arab world in response to the massacre, PLO officials are insisting that they will not accept a return to the peace talks under current conditions.
“What has really broken this peace process is the massacre in Hebron, and that massacre cannot be undone, it cannot be forgotten so that business can go back as usual,” said Nabil Shaath, who has headed the PLO’s negotiating team on security talks.
The PLO is insisting that all Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip be disarmed when they leave the settlement property, and that hard-core settlers be under “very strict” surveillance.
In addition, the PLO has urged the appointment of a commission of inquiry to look into the massacre and the links between hard-core settlers and the Israeli army. On Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet ordered a state inquiry into the massacre.
PLO officials said they are also seeking a broad package of assurances from Israel, possibly including:
* A re-evaluation of some settlements in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
* Guarantees that there will be a rapid withdrawal of Israeli troops and hand-over of authority to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank district of Jericho once a final peace agreement on Palestinian autonomy is signed.
* Immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners, numbering 10,500, by PLO estimates.
* Some concessions on remaining points of dispute in the peace talks, preferably an increase in the size of the Jericho district.
Without such measures, PLO officials said, Arafat cannot maintain popular support for continuing the peace process.
PLO officials said the Executive Committee is likely to reject Wednesday’s date for resuming the talks and present a list of points that need further consideration.
A key question in whether to resume talks in Washington is how active the Clinton Administration is prepared to be in producing an agreement, Shaath said.
“You see, bringing us to Washington does not evoke very happy memories. We spent two years in Washington without any results, while in Cairo we were doing really well,” he said.