PLO uncertain about rejoining talks

March 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Palestine Liberation Organization officials were split yesterday on whether talks with Israeli and U.S. officials scheduled to begin in Tunis today would lead to a formal resumption of the peace negotiations that Arabs broke off after the Hebron massacre.

On Friday, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon said they would return to the talks, but the PLO is still holding out over guarantees of protection for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

PLO officials also raised the issue of measures to ease the daily lives of the 1.8 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One condition was fulfilled Friday with the adoption of the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the massacre and calling for international protection for Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.

But PLO officials maintained yesterday that further talks with Israel and the United States on the form of protection were essential before they would agree to formally resume negotiations.

Yasir Abed Rabbo, the official spokesman for the PLO's executive committee, and Marwan Kanafani, a close aide to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, said the organization insisted that all Jewish settlers in the center of Hebron be moved out and that Jewish settlers be disarmed in thickly populated Palestinian regions.

Israel has rejected both demands repeatedly in recent days.

But in Cairo, Nabil Shaath, a senior PLO negotiator, predicted that negotiators would devise a formula for compromise and that the Palestinians would probably resume official negotiations with the Israelis within two weeks.

Mr. Shaath said he anticipated a reduction in the number of Israeli troops occupying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho by April 13, the original target date for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from those places.

The PLO also said it would seek an Israeli ban on the movement ofarmed settlers in heavily populated areas to control tensions after the massacre, in which at least 29 Palestinians were killed in a Hebron mosque by a Jewish settler.

So far, Israeli officials have continually asserted that they will not discuss the removal of any settlements from the occupied territories at this stage and will agree only to installing a Palestinian police force in Hebron.

The PLO says the Israelis have offered two counterproposals: assembling scattered settlers in Hebron in one spot in the middle of the town and using the International Committee of the Red Cross to fulfill the Security Council's call for international protection.

Mr. Rabbo said the PLO rejected those solutions. He said that assembling Jewish settlers into one area of Hebron would "lead toward more deterioration and more confrontation" between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.

Several Palestinians in Tunis have cautioned that the final decision on whether to resume talks with Israel belongs to Mr. Arafat, who has said little in the last few days and has been known to overrule his aides frequently.

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