Palestinian hopeful on US peace role

A prominent Palestinian says US Secretary of State George Shultz has indicated interest in activating the Mideast peace process and promised to be personally involved in it. Nearly two months of Arab unrest in the Israeli-occupied territories, Hanna Siniora said in an interview, ``have got the attention of the State Department, and [its] awareness is growing of the situation [there].''

Mr. Siniora, editor of the east Jerusalem newspaper Al-Fajr, and Fayez Abu Rahme, head of the Lawyers Association in the Gaza Strip, met with Mr. Shultz last week in Washington.

What the US should do, Siniora said he told Shultz, is ``work to end the occupation. At the same time, the US should recognize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. In order to make it possible for the peace process to succeed, the US should normalize relations with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization].''

Siniora said he and Mr. Abu Rahme told Shultz that ``the PLO is the representative of the Palestinian people, and in order to have a settlement that can be implemented, the PLO has to be present in negotiations.''

Explaining the purpose of last week's discussion, Siniora said he and Abu Rahme ``have access where the PLO cannot go, and we can be a bridge.''

The US in 1975 promised Israel not to negotiate with the PLO until the PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist, accepts United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, and renounces terrorism.

That pledge doesn't exclude Siniora and Abu Rahme, who are regarded as moderates. The two were the only Palestinians accepted by Israel, the US, the PLO, Egypt, and Jordan as possible representatives for peace negotiations in 1985.

US Undersecretary of State Richard Murphy indicated, according to Siniora, that what blocks direct US dealings with the PLO is that the PLO has yet to accept unconditionally resolutions 242 and 338.

For the PLO, Siniora said, this can be done in either of two ways:

Agreeing to accept the two resolutions in the context of other UN resolutions, as PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has done in several recent TV interviews. (Israel, however, does not accept this formula, because some UN resolutions, they argue, challenge Israel's right to exist). Or

Accepting the two resolutions in the context of the US recognizing the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.

Such a US statement may come within the next few months, Siniora predicted. ``I think we are going to bridge that position of both sides, probably by exchanging simultaneous pledges.''

Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid briefed the Palestinians on Mubarak's meetings in Washington, Siniora said. The Egyptians, Siniora said, reported they told US officials they rejected any idea of dealing with Gaza first or separately.

``What they want is a discussion of how to end the occupation of all the occupied territories. The Egyptians say their initiative is to bring permanent peace to the region, by trying to get the parties themselves to negotiate. They see a situation where Gaza is linked to the West Bank, and negotiations should be over the fate of all the occupied territories,'' Siniora reported.

Siniora also said that elections were discussed in their meeting with Mr. Murphy. ``From what I heard from the Egyptian foreign minister Friday night, the US, along with Egypt, will be working for elections in the territories,'' Siniora said, adding that elections have been due since 1980. But he said that elections should be held in both the West Bank and in Gaza - not just the West Bank, as was the case in 1976. He said there have been no elections in Gaza since 1945.

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