Palestinian council meeting strengthens Arafat's powers
Veteran guerrilla chief Yasser Arafat has had his powers as chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) strengthened by the just-concluded session of the Palestinians' parliament-in-exile.
But at the same time, some Palestinian sources indicate he may face problems within his own guerrilla group, Al-Fatah, as a result of issues raised during the 10-day meeting.
The parliament, called the Palestinian National Council (PNC), brought 314 Palestinians, many of them professional people, to the Syrian capital, Damascus. Another 120 nominal PNC members were unable to attend because they live in areas under Israeli control.
The PNC session opened April 9. Prior to that date, expectations among delegates were that the most important issue discussed would be the composition of the PLO executive committee, which is elected by the PNC.
Actually, significant decisions were also taken by the council defining PLO policy toward Jordan, the Europeans' Mideast initiative, and several other issues controversial within PLO ranks.
But Mr. Arafat's clearest victory was in the hard bargaining which led to the voting in of his 15-member slate for the executive committee with only a handful of opposing votes.
The new executive includes, for the first time since the fall of 1974, a representative of the veteran guerrilla group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP withdrew from the executive at that time to head a five-group coalition called the "rejection front" which opposed any peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue.
But the PFLP's return suprised few. Its leaders rejoined ranks with the PLO majority in practice in reaction to the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, as a way of unifying Palestinian ranks. And it is now actively brokering a reconciliation between Al-Fatah and the Libyan Jamhiriyah, whose relations were broken 18 months ago.
The principal question mark hanging over the elections to the executive committee concerned the final balance between Al-Fatah and its supporters, and those more sympathetic to the PNC's Syrian hosts.
The PLO's alliance with Syria is an absolute necessity for the continued stationing of PLO units in Lebanon. But Mr. Arafat and most other Fatah leaders are thought keen to retain room for diplomatic maneuver independent of Syria's Baath Party rulers.
Mr. Arafat won hands down in the election battle. In addition to bringing in a PFLP representative basically sympathetic to Fatah's aim of PLO independence, he also secured another seat in the executive for Fatah itself, bringing the major guerrilla organization's numbers there up to three. Syria's supporters in the PLO failed to secure any additional representation.
The number of executive members not representing commando groups was cut from nine to seven, with only four of the previous "independents" retaining their seats.
PLO activists are united in welcoming the election of the three new independents, whose abilities, they say, will boost the role of the executive committee.
They include the exiled president of the West Bank's Bir Zeit University, Dr. Hanna Nasser (a Christian), and Palestinian millionaire Dr. Salah al-Dabbagh, who brings his reputed business talents to the Palestinian National Fund.
In another significant victory, the Palestinian news agency reported that, for the first time, Mr. Arafat was reelected as chairman of the PLO directly from the floor of the congress. He also managed to secure political resolutions from the PNC session which satisfied virtually all shades of PNC opinion.
On relations with Jordan, the PNC decided to continue coordinating with Jordan the dispatch of Arab aid to strengthen the resistance in the Israeli-occupied territories. But the PLO will try to have the donors specify that this aid is under P LO control and not under joint PLO-Jordanian supervision.