PLO leader calls for a halt to talks with Israel

Wednesday, September 13, 1995

By Jennifer Thompson

Farouk Qaddoumi, head of the PLO's political department, called on the Palestinian leadership to halt talks with Israel at a press conference in Amman on August 14. He presented an alternative program for peace, analysing the results of the talks to date, Israel's attitude toward the principles and deadlines in the Oslo agreement, and the relationship between the Palestinian National Authority, the PLO and Palestinians around the world. Qaddoumi demanded a comprehensive review of the negotiations process that began with the Oslo agreement signed between Israel and the PLO two years ago. He also called on the US government to recognise the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, as Israel has already done.

Qaddoumi's program listed the principles agreed in 1991 by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) — including total Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem — for the Palestinian delegation's participation in the Madrid Conference on Middle East peace. While the Palestinian people still hold fast to these principles, said the statement, Israel has refused to be bound even by the principles of the Oslo agreement.

Today, says Qaddoumi's statement, "Israel is still determined not to withdraw from the cities and villages of the West Bank and it is stalling to consolidate its control in various areas". It cites the continuing occupation, the expansion of settlements, the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention, the disregarded deadlines of the Oslo agreement and the scant hopes of the refugees returning.

Measuring the balance of forces in the struggle for a united Palestinian state, Qaddoumi said the Oslo accord had given "some Arabs a pretext to normalise their ties with the Jewish state with the result that the PLO has lost all Arab support for the Palestine cause".

On the international level, the European countries which had long supported the Palestinian right to self-determination — rejecting the annexation of Jerusalem and condemning the building of more Israeli settlements in the occupied territories — had been limited to giving financial aid.

Despite the US government's sponsorship of the accord, Qaddoumi noted that "we have yet to receive an official American statement on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people". The statement put this down to the influence of the Israeli government and US Zionist lobby on the US government.

These factors were leading the Palestinian leadership to "concede more until they surrender everything except peace", drawing the PNA further into dealing economically and politically with Israel, so the PNA would be "reduced to a mere tool of oppression to protect itself and Israel". The result would be self-rule on isolated pieces of land surrounded by Israeli military and settlements.

To avoid these dangers, Qaddoumi proposed opening a dialogue to evaluate the situation and the Palestinian negotiating position. After a Palestinian dialogue, there should be an Arab-level dialogue. Following should be an international dialogue and a replacement of the bilateral talks with international arbitration to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the principles agreed in 1991 by the PNC.

Qaddoumi is critical of the downgrading of the PLO and its institutions in relation to the PNA. Awarding an elected PNA the status of representative of the Palestinian people would "annihilate the PLO as an organisation, and amount to an abandonment of the refugees, disregarding their legitimate rights to return".

The PLO, specifically the executive council, which the Palestinian national council's 18th session designated the provisional government of Palestinians, should direct the PNA legally and politically, and should take responsibility for the final negotiations, said the statement. Executive council members' membership of the PNA should be reviewed, says Qaddoumi, and the PNA should be reconstituted by the executive from national figures living inside the territories. PLO departments should be reactivated and funded.

The program lists 16 key tasks for the PNA in the interim period. These include: development of a Palestinian economy independent of Israel's; establishing a monetary fund to regulate financial institutions, issue a currency and organise investment and economic cooperation with neighbouring countries; ensuring basic democratic freedoms, including for Jerusalem Palestinians; and preparing to bring home the refugees.

The press conference coincided with a meeting of the PLO executive, of which Qaddoumi is a member, which voted to accept a partial redeployment agreement with Israel. Reporting of the press conference by East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds on August 17 resulted in threats to the paper by Jibril Rajoub, the PNA security head.

The paper's owner was invited to meet with PLO chairperson Yasser Arafat to discuss the matter. A law drafted by the PNA's communications minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, bans "publications that might incite against national unity, incite the commission of crimes or spur hatred and factionalism".