Israeli official drops threat to arrest Palestinian peace delegates Members had met Arafat in Jordan

June 22, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli police minister has backed off his threat to arrest members of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, a move that could have paralyzed the negotiations.

Police Minister Ronni Milo had announced Friday that he would immediately arrest top members of the delegation when they returned to Israel from a meeting in Amman, Jordan, with the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Such meetings violate Israeli law.

But a spokeswoman for Mr. Milo said yesterday that the delegates would not be arrested but would be asked to come to a police station for questioning.

The matter "will be investigated, and police will decide whether to charge" the members of the delegation, said the spokeswoman, Tami Paul-Cohen.

The same procedure has been used to sidestep the problem after previous meetings between Palestinian delegates and the PLO. Such investigations have not resulted in charges against the Palestinians, a move that could provoke an international outcry.

The Palestinian delegates have been increasingly visible in their meetings with the PLO on their frequent trips outside Israel. Last Thursday in Amman, they invited photographers to record their meeting with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Israeli newspapers showed pictures of Mr. Arafat embracing the spokeswoman of the Palestinian delegation, Hanan Ashrawi, in the company of the chief negotiator, Haider Abdel-Shafi, and the head of the delegation, Faisal al-Husseini.

The move was seen as an attempt to embarrass the Likud-led government of Yitzhak Shamir before Israel's national elections tomorrow. Mr. Shamir has claimed that he is not negotiating with the PLO, although the Palestinian delegates have openly said that they take their orders from Mr. Arafat.

The Palestinians' maneuver was criticized as "irresponsible" by U.S. officials in Washington and by the U.S. ambassador here.

Israel appeared satisfied with that, and Mr. Shamir repeated over the weekend that "the PLO will not be a party to the peace negotiations. Israel would walk out." He told a Cabinet meeting yesterday that the delegates will be investigated "just like any other citizen."

The Palestinian delegates delayed their return from Amman and may not re-enter Israeli-occupied territories until after tomorrow's election.

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