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Arafat has little room for maneuver at key PLO meeting

By Mary CurtiusSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 16, 1984



Cairo

Barring any last-minute hitches, the long-delayed meeting of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, will open next Thursday in Amman, Jordan.

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But political analysts in the Arab world say they expect little of significance to be agreed upon by the delegates.

There are Palestinian moderates who have said they will push during the meeting for an overhaul of Palestine Liberation Organization policy, including a change of course on the Middle East peace process.

''We need, as (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak says, a Palestinian peace initiative,'' said a moderate member of the PNC from Egypt. ''Until now we have always reacted to others. Now we should make our own initiative, to give the new generation a basis to live in peace, and to put the Israelis against the wall.''

There have been indications in recent months that PLO leader Yasser Arafat agrees with that assessment.

Mr. Arafat has expressed a willingness to moderate the position that had encouraged moderates and infuriated PLO hard-liners and Syria. But even should he want to recognize Israel and be willing to join with Jordan and Egypt to negotiate with Israel a Palestinian homeland on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip , he is in no position to push those views now, analysts say.

Arafat is under fire both from the Syrians, who have demanded that he be ousted from the chairmanship before a national council meeting is called, and from critics within his organization.

Arafat will accomplish something merely by holding the meeting, analysts say. He cannot be expected to achieve much more. It will be difficult for him even to muster a quorum of the 384-seat organization. Of 60 delegates based in Jordan, 37 have told journalists they will not attend. Most Damascus-based PNC members have also said they will not attend. Israel has said that no West Bank members will be allowed to go.

If the meeting takes place, Arafat's Al-Fatah, the largest of the PLO's eight factions, will be under enormous pressure from both the hard-liners who participate and those who are boycotting the PNC not to start any new initiatives that would permanently split the PLO.

Arafat will also be under pressure to take stands acceptable to the so-called Democratic Alliance, a coalition of four leftist Palestinian groups that have said they will not attend a PNC held in Amman, but who have resisted the Syrian calls for the ouster of Arafat.

''Now they (Fatah members) are desperate to prove they are revolutionists,'' says a Jordanian reporter who covers the PLO. ''They will be very careful, because they feel they cannot really abandon the factions.''

Still, Egyptian officials say they were encouraged by Arafat's insistence on holding the conference, and by Jordan's willingness to play host.

''The King (of Jordan) hopes that the PLO will change its position as a result of the conference,'' says an Egyptian official. ''But he knows that it will be hard for Arafat. Even so, by allowing it to be held, the King feels that he is encouraging the moderates to come forward.''

Arafat has fought desperately to convene the conference, and was even said to have considered at one point holding it aboard a ship in the Mediterranean. The PNC was scheduled to be held in Algiers last September, but the Algerians canceled it at the insistance of Syrian President Hafez Assad.

This time the PLO chief seems determined to hold the meeting of the organization that governs both political and military decisions of the loose-knit PLO.

''They have to hold it, or ultimately it will mean no Fatah, no PLO,'' says a Jordanian political analyst.

''The organization is disintegrating. All the functions of the movement were being blocked because they couldn't have this meeting.''

The PLO's divisions became public in 1982, after Arafat's guerrillas were driven from Lebanon by the Israelis. Arafat was criticized by some PLO members for leaving Beirut under an American-sponsored agreement. Open rebellion against the chairman broke out in March 1983 in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, when Syrian-backed PLO rebels attacked Arafat loyalists.