Israel to continue talks with newly designated PLO officials

August 14, 1993|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- Ending a long-standing refusal to deal directly with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Middle East peace talks, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said yesterday that Israel would continue to negotiate with three key Palestinian delegates despite their new status as officials of the PLO.

"It makes no difference to us," Mr. Peres said. "They're the same delegation members, the same names, the same people, the same procedure. We're also aware of the fact that prior to this they also consulted whomever they consulted."

But Israel's view of the delegates, Hanan Ashrawi, Faisal al-Husseini and Saeb Erekat, who were named this week to the PLO committee that monitors the talks, does not dilute the significance of the change that has taken place: For the first time, Israel will probably be negotiating openly with PLO officials.

"From all indications it looks like the Israeli government is moving toward direct dialogue with the PLO," Mrs. Ashrawi, the spokeswoman for the delegation, said after she returned from Tunis, Tunisia, yesterday.

In Tunis, Yassir Arafat, the head of the PLO, repeated his appeal to Israel to make a "peace of the brave" directly with the Palestinians, Reuters reported.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the man who served as his top adviser, Yossi Ben-Aharon, were highly critical of the Israeli officials' announcements and warned of the dangers involved.

Mr. Shamir, referring to the PLO as a "murderous organization," accused Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's government of "breaking down walls" that he had tried to create between the local Palestinians and the PLO leadership in Tunis.

Mr. Ben-Aharon said that if the organization entered the negotiations, it might demand the "right of return" for the 6 million Palestinians it calculates are scattered around the world.

While the Israeli government still officially opposes negotiating with the PLO on the grounds that it engages in terrorism, it has modified Mr. Shamir's hard-line stance.

In January, Israel repealed the law against contacts with members of the PLO, and Mr. Rabin recently authorized Environment Minister Yossi Sarid to meet secretly with Nabil Shaath, a senior official in the organization.

Mrs. Ashrawi denies that she and other delegates received PLO posts to force Israel into speaking to the organization.

"If it happens as a side effect, that's fine," she said, saying the new appointments were an internal Palestinian matter.

The appointments were apparently meant to heal a rift between the organization's leadership and the peace delegation, which is from the occupied territories. The dispute flared with threats of resignation from the delegation by Mrs. Ashrawi, Mr. Husseini and Mr. Erekat. Instead, they were appointed to a PLO committee that oversees the peace talks.

Foreign Minister Peres also played down the development. "There's a Palestinian delegation with which we are negotiating," he said.

"Its relationship with Tunis is its own affair. The entire matter is a bit gimmicky, an attempt to extricate themselves from a crisis."

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