PLO Official Says His Group Approved Meeting With Defense Minister
JERUSALEM (AP) _ A PLO official said in an interview published today that his organization approved in advance the first major meeting between local Palestinians and a Cabinet minister in the new Israeli government.
The meeting between Defense Minister Moshe Arens and three West Bank Palestinian mayors came after the new right-wing government said it hoped to reach a Middle East peace settlement by talking only to Palestinians not linked to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel’s refusal to give the PLO even an indirect role in peace talks was one reason U.S. efforts to mediate a peace settlement have stalled.
Abdullah Hourani, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, said in an interview with the Jerusalem Arabic weekly Al-Nadwa that the PLO knew of the meeting ahead of time and received reports on it afterward.
″The PLO endorsed a meeting as a chance for Palestinian national figures to notify the Israeli official that the PLO is the legitimate representative ... for the Palestinian people,″ Hourani was quoted as saying.
Mayor Farah Araj of Beit Jala, one of those who met with Arens on June 27, verified the account given by Hourani.
″The content of our talks (with Arens) that the PLO is the only representative is also correct,″ he told The Associated Press today.
Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, who also attended the meeting, said Hourani ″has the right to say this″ when asked about the PLO official’s comments.
Freij, who is regarded as among the most moderate Palestinians, had said after the June meeting that the officials told Arens that only the PLO could negotiate with Israel.
The third mayor who attended, Hanna Atrash of Beit Sahour, was not available for comment.
After Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir formed the new right-wing government on June 11, officials immediately reiterated the stand that the government would not negotiate with the PLO, which Israel considers a terrorist organization.
Officials said later that the government’s peace effort would focus on trying to open talks with Palestinians who are not part of the PLO, a tactic that has repeatedly failed in the past.
″We are going to make a determined effort to convince our Palestinians here that the PLO option is not available,″ said Yossi Ben-Aharon, a top policy adviser to Shamir.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III said last month that any peace talks with Israel need the acquiescence of the PLO. Without PLO consent, Baker said, ″there won’t be any dialogue for Israel.″