PLO Meets to Reassess Negotiating Strategy Arafat Faces Strong Opposition to Continued Palestinian Participation in the Peace Process and to Concessions Already Accepted

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THE Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership is scheduled to start meeting today in Tunis to reassess Palestinian involvement in the Arab-Israeli peace talks amid increasing internal pressure to suspend their participation.

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, according to Palestinian officials, will face the difficult task of convincing a disillusioned Palestinian Central Council (PCC) to maintain Palestinian involvement despite lack of progress toward an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Although Mr. Arafat's survival after his plane crashed over the Libyan desert Tuesday will soften the tone of the opposition, it will also underscore the urgency of political reform within the PLO and the need for a unified negotiating strategy.

The officials say Arafat himself is against suspending Palestinian participation in the peace process because such a step would further undermine the international standing and credibility of the PLO and the Palestinians.

"The opposition is very strong. But he will put up a fight to keep the process going despite his personal disappointment at the lack of progress," said a close aide to Arafat in a telephone interview from Tunis.

Over the past month, Arafat has come under fire from Palestinians inside and outside the organization for accepting what are widely viewed as serious political concessions at the talks.

Many Palestinians are critical of the PLO's exclusion from the peace process and the Palestinian delegation's failure to secure a halt to Israeli settlement in the occupied territories.

More than 120 prominent Palestinian political activists have already called on Arafat to suspend participation unless the PLO is represented and Israel agrees to discuss territorial compromise.

Although it is no secret that the Palestinian negotiating team was hand-picked by Arafat, it was confined to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to Israeli and United States preconditions.

Six months after the beginning of the US-initiated process, there is a growing feeling among Palestinians that these conditions were aimed at excluding the issue of Palestinian national rights from the agenda.

`WE have practically given up our national rights as a people by accepting that our representation be confined to the occupied territories," says Ahmed Jamal of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

The DFLP and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine both oppose the terms of the talks and have successfully enlisted the support of prominent independents, who initially backed the peace process, in a public campaign to pressure Arafat to block Palestinian participation.

The fifth round of talks is expected to take place in Washington at the end of this month. …