PLO's peaceful offensive: expand ties to Israeli Jews

When journalist Amnon Kateliuk, the only Israeli at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers last month, began filing daily dispatches to the largest circulation Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, Algerian telex operators were puzzled.

The Hebrew language, transliterated in English, appeared to them to be a secret code. Baffled, they took his articles to Palestine Liberation Organization officials, who with some embarrassment approached Mr. Kateliuk.

''Amnon,'' an Israeli-born PLO man inquired in Hebrew, ''this doesn't bother us, but so as not to embarrass the Algerians, do you think you could file in English?''

''But perhaps the English will be inexactly translated back into Hebrew,'' responded Mr. Kateliuk.

''OK,'' conceded the PLO official, ''keep on filing in Hebrew.''

The effusive welcome and access to PLO leaders accorded Amnon Kateliuk indicated the intense interest among key PLO moderates, including Yasser Arafat, in expanding PLO contacts with Israeli as well as with American and European Jews. Wider contacts

Such PLO moderates say they intend to pursue such contacts more widely than ever and that the ambiguous PNC resolution on this subject gives them the leeway to do so.

Their hope: If the PLO could arouse Jewish support for a two-state solution - Palestine and Israel side by side - this could provide significant political pressure toward this goal in the United States and possibly even inside Israel.

But the impact of such contacts will depend heavily on how broad a spectrum of Jews can be attracted and on the political basis upon which such approaches are made. Given the sharp divisions within the PLO over these moves, it remains to be seen how far PLO moderates can or want to go in pursuit of this policy.

Contacts have gone on since 1974 between PLO officials and certain Israeli doves. (This is in addition to meetings between Israeli communists, mostly Arabs , and PLO members at communist conferences.) Israelis embarrassed

Many of these meetings were arranged by Dr. Issam Sartawi, a freewheeling, gutsy Palestinian surgeon acting on direct authority of PLO chairman Arafat out of Paris and Vienna. But the meetings, held in secret, were usually publicly denied by senior PLO officials after they happened, thus undercutting any political impact inside Israel and embarrassing the Israeli participants, who were already quite isolated at home.

But after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, PLO interest in such contacts sharpened. Israeli journalists Kapeliuk and Uri Avneri went to Beirut to interview Mr. Arafat in the midst of the fighting. And senior PLO moderates were struck by the fact that while Arab states remained silent, 500,000 Israelis demonstrated in late September 1982 over the Lebanon war and the massacre by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila camps.

''It became so clear that inside Israel were hundreds of thousands of people who might support our struggle to achieve our legal goals and aims,'' recalled Emad Shacour, a former Israeli citizen who advises Mr. Arafat on Israeli affairs. As a result, on Jan. 19, 1983, Mr. Arafat met and was photographed with reserve Gen. Matti Peled, Yaacov Arnon, and Mr. Avneri, all from the tiny Council for Israel-Palestine Peace. Their meeting reportedly took place in Tunis.

The three hoped to be invited to the PNC, a dramatic gesture to Israelis. But according to Mr. Shacour, the invitation did not materialize because a warm welcome could not be assured at the deeply divided PNC meeting.

PLO moderates were also worried about offending the Algerians. The case of Mr. Kapeliuk was simpler: Although known to be an Israeli, he also held a French passport and wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique.

The debate over the question of expanded Jewish contacts was one of the most heated at the conference. It raged for 10 hours in one PLO leadership meeting. Even trusted Arafat lieutenants faulted him for holding the ''Tunis'' meeting without prior consultation with the PLO Executive Committee (where hard-liners would have opposed it) and in violation of a 1977 PNC resolution which specified that such contacts with Israelis should be limited to ''anti-Zionists.''

''The issue is highly emotional,'' said Dr. Ahmed Sidki Dejani, a PLO Executive Committee member who supports expanded contact. ''I said at the meeting I would shake hands with an Israeli for the sake of my son, but another man said he would not do it because of his son.''

The final resolution was more opaque than some moderates had wished. Referring to ''contacts with Jewish'' not Israeli ''forces,'' it cited the 1977 ''anti-Zionist'' decision, but went on to call on the Executive Committee to study the question ''in a way that suits the interests . . . of the Palestinian national struggle.'' However, PLO moderates insist this gives them official leeway to base contacts solely on an Israeli's position toward the Palestinian cause.

Abu Mazin (Mahmoud Abbas), a key senior official of Mr. Arafat's Fatah organization and confidant of the PLO chief who deals extensively with such contacts, said, ''It is our policy to create relations with Jewish forces inside Israel . . . who recognize the PLO and our right to self-determination and an independent state. Their ideology is irrelevant.''

Abu Mazin said such contacts would continue despite the resignation of Dr. Sartawi over a policy clash. (The PNC did not accept the resignation.)

The PLO recognizes that if these contacts are to have political impact they must attract mainstream Israelis, not just fringe doves. This is likely to require the PLO to offer a formula of mutual Israeli-PLO recognition as a basis for such contacts. But according to Abu Mazin, such a formula is not now being considered.

''If we talk to Israelis, what does it mean?'' he asks, implying implicit recognition. But such vagueness is unlikely to get broad-based contacts off the ground.

Next: Are Israelis interested in meeting the PLO?

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