Nudged by Arab allies, PLO's Arafat makes qualified concession. Eschews violence outside `occupied' Arab lands, but not in Israeli-ruled area
There are signs that Yasser Arafat is feeling pressure from Jordan and Egypt to change his stance. Speaking at a press conference in Cairo Thursday, after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization renounced violence outside ``occupied Arab lands'' and said the PLO would ``take drastic measures to punish'' those who violated his order. But he reserved the right of Palestinians living under Israeli rule to engage in armed resistance.
Both Jordan and Egypt, analysts in Amman say, had made it clear to Arafat that he must renounce violence outside Israel and discipline the many PLO factions if he hoped to be included in the peace process.
If news reports of Arafat's statement were accurate, says one United States diplomat, ``it would seem to be a response to things he was asked to do. It is a very important thing for them [the PLO] to do if they're going to refurbish, in any way, their image.'' The official US position, however, ``is that all violence should end,'' the diplomat says.
Other analysts say the statement did not go far enough toward satisfying US requirements for dealing with the PLO. The US consistently has said the PLO must accept United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and accept Israel's right to exist before the Americans would deal with the PLO.
But the statement raised Arafat's stock in Jordan and Egypt, where leaders had privately been raging at the PLO since Palestinians hijacked an Italian liner last month.
Jordan's King Hussein met with Arafat and several PLO members in Amman late last month and reportedly demanded that Arafat exercise strict control over his organization.
``The Jordanians . . . laid out for Arafat where they think things should go,'' says one Western observer.
Where things should go, from a Jordanian perspective, is toward an international peace conference and UN sanctioned negotiations with Israel over the fate of the Israeli-occupied territories and the Palestinians.
Arafat was told both in Amman and in Cairo, sources say, that he had no hope of joining such a process unless he publicly altered the PLO's political platform.
His move Thursday is loaded with symbolism for Palestinians because it was made in Cairo. Egypt is the only Arab state to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, and the PLO led the Arab world's condemnation of that treaty. But Arafat has been mending fences with the Egyptians since the PLO was expelled from Lebanon in 1983.
What remains to be seen is how much further Arafat is willing or capable of going now. A Palestinian analyst here says the statement would be hard to criticize because the PLO in 1974 renounced violence outside Israel.
``Everyone thought the Achille Lauro was very harmful to the cause . . . ,'' says the analyst. ``No one will be able to criticize Arafat on that. They will criticize him because he is complying with US and Jordanian demands.'' But it appears that the PLO chairman had few options.
In October, the PLO suffered disastrous setbacks -- Israel bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunis, the Achille Lauro was hijacked, and a scheduled meeting between two PLO members and the British foreign secretary failed to go through. King Hussein then said he was ``reassessing'' Jordan's relationship with the PLO and summoned Arafat to Amman for what was billed as a showdown.
However, Arafat emerged from the meeting saying no demands had been made of him. Hussein said in a speech this week that the PLO was the recognized ``legitimate representative of the Palestinian people'' and ``should be invited to participate in the peace process.''
But it became clear Thursday that Jordan had in fact leaned hard on Arafat. His next step may be, analysts say, to accept the UN resolutions which have been by Jordan, Israel, and the US as the basis of negotiations. They enshrine the concept of exchanging land for peace and for each state to live within secure boundaries.
The options facing Arafat are harsh. The UN resolutions are anathema to the PLO because they implicitly recognize Israel and do not refer specifically to the Palestinians or acknowledge their right to self-determination. If he accepts the resolutions with no apparent concessions from the US or Israel, Palestinians here say, Arafat risks splitting the PLO again.
``Arafat already has lost the support of 30 percent of his organization just for signing the Feb. 11 accord with Jordan,'' remarked one Jordanian oficial. The accord recognizes the principle of exchanging land for peace and calls for a confederated Jordanian and Palestinian state.
Arafat has no guarantee that accepting the UN resolutions would lead to Israeli acceptance of the PLO at peace talks.
Alternatively, Arafat could choose to step back in the initial stages and allow designated, non-PLO Palestinians to negotiate jointly with Jordan. Such a move, however, carries the risk of allowing an alternative Palestinian leadership to arise.
But the other alternatives facing Arafat are not much brighter, the Jordanian official says.
Should Arafat disappoint Hussein by being unable to move forward, he faces the possibility of recently reestablished PLO officies in Amman being shut, his officials being asked to leave, and the Feb. accord crumbling. That would leave Arafat very few political choices and even fewer military ones, observers say.
This might also pave the way for the King proceeding without the PLO. But Western and Arab diplomats caution that such an option is unlikely, because Jordan is unwilling to risk isolation in the Arab world by dealing directly with Israel without PLO participation.