By Peter Boyle
The Australian government is deliberately misrepresenting the Palestine Liberation Organisation's position on the conflict in the Arab-Persian Gulf, according to Ali Kazak, the PLO representative in Australia and ambassador to Vanuatu.
Following the lead of the US and British governments in seeking to slander and politically isolate the PLO because of its opposition to the war against Iraq, since January 21 the Hawke government has downgraded the status of the PLO office in Canberra by prohibiting ministers and government officials from initiating any contact with the PLO.
Foreign Minister Gareth Evans has accused the PLO of "consistently defending and associating itself with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait", but this was misleading and false, Kazak said.
"The PLO's position and behaviour, unlike others', has been consistent from the very beginning of the Gulf crisis, and is known to the Australian government and the whole world; it has been repeated over and over again", said Kazak.
"As far back as August 23, 1990, in a press release put out in answer to Mr Hawke's reply to a question in parliament, I clarified the PLO's position as being based on the principles of finding a peaceful solution to the dispute, opposing foreign military intervention and not allying itself with one party at the expense of another — a solution that preserves the national rights, sovereignty and security of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the entire Arab region.
"Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen and the PLO all call for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait."
Kazak said that the PLO position was again clearly outlined by the chairperson of the Palestine National Council's political committee, Dr Nabeel Sha'ath, in a meeting with Ran Cohen of the Israeli Citizens' Rights Movement (Ratz) in Amsterdam in December.
It was summarised in five points: 1. Immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. 2. Immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region and their replacement by an Arab or UN peace force. 3. An international peace conference dealing with the problems of the area. 4. A conference aimed at removal of the weapons of mass destruction from the region. 5. The implementation of a plan for economic development of the region.
Minister for defence Senator Robert Ray claimed on February 6 that the PLO had lost its credibility as the legitimate
representative of the Palestinian people, but Kazak replied that the PLO's credibility "comes first and foremost from the Palestinian people". He added that the PLO enjoyed more support among the Palestinian people than did US President George Bush or Prime Minister Bob Hawke in their own countries.
"If anyone's credibility has been damaged during the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is that of the Australian government, which has done nothing to support or encourage the PLO's 1988 peace initiative and which is constantly appeasing Israel's aggression and occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories and is deadly silent on Israel's gross violations of human rights and international law."
Since the US-led coalition began the war against Iraq on January 16, the 1.75 million Palestinians who are living under Israeli occupation have been placed under 24-hour curfew. The entire occupied territories, excluding parts of east Jerusalem, are designated closed military zones, said Kazak.
"Palestinians found outside their homes, or those who even go out on to their balconies, could be immediately shot — as was the case with a 24-year-old mother who was shot dead with 10 bullets to her face and chest while feeding her baby on the balcony of her home."
The Israeli military was using the curfew to arrest, interrogate and beat up hundreds of suspected Palestinian nationalists. Palestinian community leaders and intellectuals, including Bir Zeit University Professor Sari Nusseibeh, had been detained without trial. Some 150 Palestinian homes had been destroyed by the Israeli military in the continuation of its longstanding practice of collective punishment against the Palestinians — a practice clearly in breach of international law.
The curfew is causing severe hardship and has prompted emergency international aid from the UN and Red Cross. Palestinians are being prevented from going to work (causing crop losses and loss of income) and are deprived of first aid, health care and emergency facilities.
While Israeli citizens have been issued with gas masks, in case of chemical attacks from Iraq, the Palestinians had not been given the same protection. The United Nations Relief Agency and the Swedish government had donated a few thousand gas masks, but this was a drop in the ocean.
The UNWRA's commissioner-general, Georgio Giacomelli, protested to the Israeli government over this discrimination. On January 24, Ali Kazak asked the Australian government to donate gas masks to the Palestinians but his request was ignored.