PLO Holds On to Role as Mideast Parley Nears
LAST-minute negotiations over one of the most contentious elements of the planned Middle East peace conference - how the Palestinians will be represented at the talks - have taken a complex turn during United States Secretary of State James Baker III's current regional tour.The Palestine Liberation Organization, according to PLO officials in Tunis, rejected indirect requests by the US, through its Arab allies, to have a list of names of potential Palestinian delegates ready when the secretary stopped here Oct. 14. The officials say that Mr. Baker had asked Egyptian and Jordanian officials that the list of names be delivered to the Jordanian government that day, stipulating that the potential delegates be from the occupied territories, as Israel has demanded. "We were asked through Arab channels to choose 20 to 30 names of candidates from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, excluding Jerusalem," a senior PLO official says. But Baker, who arrived Oct. 15 in Damascus from Amman, repeated several times at a press conference before his departure that he was seeking a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, refusing to recognize any role for the PLO at the negotiations. "We are not negotiating with the PLO, we are talking with Palestinians from the territories who accept our two-track approach" to the peace process, Baker said. The US wants first to convene Arab-Israeli talks that would lead to Israeli-Palestinian discussions, possibly within days. (Israeli hard-liners oppose talks, Page 3.) The PLO is concerned that Baker, despite his denials, will convey the list to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir for his approval when they meet in Jerusalem Oct. 17, according to the officials in Tunis. Consequently the PLO leadership said that it wants the right to veto the names of Israeli negotiators if the US delivers a list of Palestinian names to Israel for approval. "The PLO leadership has decided that it will not accept any Israeli who was implicated in massacres against or torture of Palestinians," said PLO executive committee Tayseer Khaled over the phone from Tunis. The failure to provide the list of delegates reflects the PLO's determination to maintain a role, even an indirect one, in steering the Palestinian negotiating position throughout the process. The PLO position, according to the officials, also came in response to Baker's refusal to explicitly accept that the Palestinian delegates should represent Palestinians from inside and outside the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem - one of the assurances they have been seeking from the US. A group of Palestinian leaders from the occupied territories arrived in Amman Oct. 15 to confer with the Jordanian government. Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi, Sari Nusseibeh, and Zakaria al-Agha, who have been negotiating with Baker for months, met with Jordan's prime minister. PLO officials here and in Tunis say that Chairman Yasser Arafat authorized their visit to Amman to meet one of the conditions set by Baker. The secretary is apparently trying to establish direct coordination between the Jordanian government and the Palestinians from the occupied territories. But the PLO, which views Baker's insistence on this meeting as another step to exclude it from the process, has said that the delegates from the occupied territories will not be involved in serious negotiations with the Jordanian government unless they are part of the PLO-authorized delegation. PLO officials also went into talks with the Jordanian government Oct. 15 to reach a political and organizational agreement to pave the way for a joint delegation. "Only the PLO delegation is authorized to conduct negotiations with Jordan. But even this delegation cannot deliver the PLO's final decision," PLO executive committee member Mr. Khaled said. Any agreement, he added, will have to be ratified by the PLO Central Council, scheduled to meet in Tunis Oct. 16. A senior member of the PLO delegation in Amman asserted that any meetings between the Jordanian government and the Palestinian leaders from the occupied territories are "formalities for the sake of appearances." It was unclear how Jordan and the PLO were going to sort out problems over the representation of Palestinians from the diaspora and East Jerusalem. Jordanian sources say that the government has tried to solve the problem by including a Jordanian who is originally from East Jerusalem in the Jordanian part of the delegation. Either seven or 14 Palestinians will be part of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Each negotiating team is supposed to have 14 members, but since the Palestinians are to join Jordan's delegation, only seven are expected to take part. But PLO officials say that they will demand 14 slots, to be equal with other delegations. Former Mayor of Jerusalem Rawhi al-Khatibm from the Jordanian side of Jerusalem was included, they say. But Baker has allegedly objected to Mr. Khatib. There was no confirmation of this from the US side. In his national speech Oct. 12, King Hussein said that the Palestinians, and not Jordan, will negotiate with Israel on the Palestinian issue. But he said the delegation will be led by a Jordanian, although the PLO has demanded a rotation of the leadership.