Arafat has a ways to go to put PLO back on track; His pact with rivals ignores key issue, lacks Syrian blessing
Workable ''unity'' in Yasser Arafat's hamstrung Palestine Liberation Organization - despite rosy official pronouncements in recent days - seems a considerable way off.
One key policy issue - how far the PLO should go in opting for diplomacy over violence in its bid for a Palestinian state - has yet to figure seriously in recent intra-PLO talks.
It certainly does not figure in a preliminary rapprochement accord announced last week after talks in South Yemen among Mr. Arafat's mainstream Al-Fatah guerrilla faction and its main rivals within the PLO.
That ''full agreement,'' as detailed to reporters by several Arafat aides, includes principally the following trade-off:
Arafat's rivals will forget, if not necessarily forgive, his free-lance rapprochement meeting last December with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Arafat will generally be subject to greater checks and balances within the PLO, in the shape of a newly formed ''general secretariat'' that will, among other things, name several Arafat deputies.
Arab and Western political analysts note a series of hurdles still facing Arafat in any bid to put the PLO back on track:
* While the Yemen accord involves those Arafat rivals with a significant following among Palestinians, it does not include powerful Syria and its client anti-Arafat groups. Though it is hard to see what Syria can do to spoil the accord, the pact's importance in a wider Arab context would be enhanced by Syria's OK.
* The agreement includes no date for convening a long-delayed policy session of the Palestine National Council, the PLO's parliament in exile. Talks on this issue are slated for later this month in Algeria.
* And above all: Mideast and international political developments have teamed increasingly to reduce the relevance of any intra-PLO decision to the ultimate outcome of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Militarily, the Lebanon war has deprived the PLO of much of its always limited ability to bring armed pressure on Israel for concessions to the Palestinians.
Politically, a temporary hiatus in both Israeli and American diplomatic activity on the Mideast front has strengthened the hand of those PLO figures who oppose anything resembling a diplomatic ''initiative'' by Arafat.
Indeed, Arafat seems increasingly disinclined toward serious use of the ''diplomatic'' option anyway.
A short-lived exception came in early May, when he was quoted by a French news magazine as suggesting direct talks with Israel and a formula of ''mutual recognition'' whereby Israel would sanction creation of a Palestinian state next door.
But he was promptly quoted by Arab news media as denying he had ever said such a thing - stock practice for similar PLO launchings of diplomatic ''trial balloons'' in the past. Though some Arafat aides had hinted at the possibility of a similar ''mutual recognition'' statement to a major American newspaper, that idea also seems to have atrophied quietly.
The main effect of the entire episode, especially the almost inaudible response to Arafat's initially reported peace formula, has been to underscore the PLO leader's reduced international audience in recent months.
The assumption among veteran PLO-watchers is that Arafat, like just about everyone else in the Mideast, will wait at least until the outcome of the American and Israeli elections before making any serious political move.
Arab news reports that Arafat has held at least one recent meeting with Carter-era United States national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski are viewed by diplomats as more in the realm of international public relations than of international politics.
Arafat, meanwhile, is focusing on internal PLO issues. Specifically, aides suggest, he would like to find a way of rebuilding his own regional influence via normalization of ties with both Egypt and Syria - no easy task in the splintered Arab world. Arafat is also said to be hopeful of a PLO National Council session by early fall.