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PLO Makes The Contacts And Decisions - And Foots The Bill

November 1, 1991

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ In a mustard brown villa on Pio XII Avenue, Palestine Liberation Organization officials have been monitoring the Middle East peace conference from which they were barred by an Israeli veto.

Nabil Shaath, the most senior political adviser to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and three other officials manned a 24-hour operations room during the three-day conference opening. Often juggling more than one telephone at a time, Shaath kept open lines to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in Tunis, delegation members and chiefs in Madrid and sometimes Arab capitals to coordinate conference stands.

″We are here to make sure the Palestinian delegation is fully equipped and supported by the best Palestinian brains, expertise and the right political position,″ he said in an interview at the headquarters.

″That involves doing everything except sitting at the negotiating table,″ he said.

The interview was interrupted frequently by telephone calls, messengers bringing in reams of paper and an American-style takeout lunch - Kentucky Fried Chicken and coke.

Issam Kamel, the PLO representative in Spain, has had to refurbish his office to accommodate the operations room, decorated with the four-color Palestinian flag, life-size portraits of Arafat, pictures of slain Palestinian officials and posters of Jerusalem.

Kamel had to install new telephone lines and a second fax machine, which two nights ago received from Tunis the text of the Palestinian delegation’s speech to the Mideast peace conference. The Associated Press saw a copy and it was written on PLO stationery.

The PLO emblem and ″the President’s Office″ appeared on the top right- hand corner. The final page was signed: ″God crown your efforts with success, Abu Ammar″ - Arafat’s codename.

Israel had rejected any role for the PLO in the conference that brought Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table for the first time in the history of their 43-year-old conflict.

Israel maintains the PLO is a terrorist group bent on destruction of the Jewish state. A statement last week by a Palestinian delegate that the entire team had been chosen by the PLO drew an Israeli warning that it might walk out if the delegation in Madrid was indeed representing the PLO.

The same Palestinian delegate, Saeb Erekat, has appeared at the conference for three days clad in a keffiyeh, Arafat’s traditional black-and-white checkered headdress.

And the speech delivered by the Palestinian delegation chief, Haidar Abdul- Shafi, referred to the PLO, though indirectly.

For the PLO, its absence from the Hall of Columns, the conference site, was not an issue.

″I think what happened vindicates the Palestinian point of view and that’s what is important,″ Shaath said. ″The Palestinians and the Palestinian cause dominated and we had an opportunity to present our cause for the first time ... facing the occupiers.″

Shaath said the PLO was pleased with its proxy delegation, which followed to the letter Arafat’s instructions.

He would not explain how these instructions are conveyed to the delegates.

However, at the four-star Victoria Hotel, where the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations are staying, traces of the PLO are obvious.

A reporter trying to borrow writing equipment was handed a pen carrying the PLO emblem and an ″Embassy of Palestine″ writing pad.

Asked who paid the expenses of the Palestinian delegation, one delegate replied: ″The bearded guy with the keffiyeh and khaki jacket″ - Arafat’s traditional dress.

Asked if the PLO was paying for the delegation, Shaath said: ″Yes. We don’t seek charity.″

He would not elaborate, but other Palestinian sources, insisting on anonymity, said the PLO was paying for rooms, meals and telecommunications.

The sources said the PLO also provided the air tickets for the 14 delegation members, their aides, advisers and administrative assistants - some 70 people in all.

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