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