The Palestine Liberation Organization is trying to help Shimon Peres become Israel's next prime minister. The PLO views an election victory Nov. 1 by the Labor Party leader as the best chance to open negotiations for the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
``The PLO is playing Peres,'' a well-informed Western diplomat says.
PLO officials and Western diplomats list the following PLO exertions on behalf of Labor:
Calling on residents of the occupied territories to cool down the intifadah (uprising). The anti-Israeli unrest that began last December could drive Israeli voters into the camp of Peres's opponent, hardliner Yitzhak Shamir, who refuses to give up the occupied lands.
Encouraging Israeli Arabs to vote for Labor. The PLO is this week seeking a fatwa (religious edict) from the Islamic authorities in Saudi Arabia to oblige the 250,000 eligible Israeli Arabs to vote for the candidate ``most likely to make peace with the Palestinians.''
``It would not help Peres if we put his name'' on the edict, Hani al-Hassan, the senior adviser to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, told the Monitor in a weekend interview. The PLO is not sure whether the Saudi authorities will respond.
Postponing the Palestine National Council's discussion of a Palestinian declaration of independence. The Egyptian government has repeatedly warned PLO leaders that if the document is announced and ratified before Israelis go to the polls, it will help Mr. Shamir. The PNC, a sort of Palestinian parliament-in-exile, will meet Oct. 31, but will not consider the independence document until after Nov. 1, Mr. Hassan said.
The PLO denies consulting Labor about backing that party, despite reports in the Israeli press of direct contact between the two.
``There has been no contact,'' Hassan said. But he also said that an Israeli Labor Party member, in Moscow for talks last weekend, asked the Soviets to relay a request to the PLO to calm the uprising. Such efforts have had little success so far.
``The PLO has not been totally able to deliver,'' the Western diplomat says.
Diplomatic sources say the PLO was able for a short period to temper the intifadah. But it has been unable to influence Palestinian youngsters in villages and refugee camps.
``We tried to cool the intifadah,'' a PLO source here says. ``Statement No. 26 shows that.''
He was referring to communiqu'e No. 26 of the ``Unified National Leadership of the Uprising.'' Issued at the end of September, the communiqu'e said in somewhat veiled language that the uprising should be more political and less violent.
PLO sources say that the Israeli Army has been so harsh on Palestinian demonstrators recently that the leadership can no longer urge restraint on West Bank Palestinians. ``We have to go along with the people of the intifadah,'' says a source close to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Accordingly, communiqu'e No. 27 was much tougher.
Meanwhile, the fact that the Israeli crackdown on the uprising is directed by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who belongs to Labor, appears to be costing Labor the support of Israeli Arab voters. They may favor smaller parties like the Progressive List for Peace, which comes even closer to PLO thinking than does Labor. But the PLO prefers Labor because that party has more chance than the smaller parties of winning enough seats in the Knesset (parliament) to form a government.
Whoever becomes Israel's next prime minister could soon face a Palestinian declaration of independence. Diplomatic sources familiar with a draft of the document credit the PLO for crafting it intelligently. It relies on UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which called for the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, to establish the basis for the ``international legitimacy'' of a Palestinian state. Diplomatic sources say the document openly copies Israel's own 1948 declaration of independence.
Hassan said the PNC will establish political guidelines for a provisional government which will be formed four to six weeks after the meeting.
Hassan also said that the PLO has asked Egypt to obtain clarification from Washington of the words ``political rights'' of the Palestinian people. United States Secretary of State George Shultz reportedly used those words in recent discussions with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid.
The PLO, Hassan said, wants to see if the US equates Palestinian rights with the rights outlined in such documents as the US Declaration of Independence, the United Nations Charter, or the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Hassan said that an acceptable answer from the US would allow the PLO to proceed with acceptance of UN Resolutions 242 and 338. The US has said that the resolutions must be the basis for eventual peace talks. But the PLO has refused to proceed on that basis alone because the two resolutions refer to the Palestinians as refugees and make no mention of a right to self-determination.
On the future of the occupied territories, Hassan said that the PLO was glad that Jordan's King Hussein had renounced his claim to the West Bank and Gaza Strip this last summer.
But the organization still will seek a confederation with the Hashemite kingdom. The US has insisted that the West Bank eventually be tied to Jordan. But recently, PLO rhetoric has been focused on an independent state.
Confederation with Jordan is a ``Palestinian wish and Palestinian aim,'' Hassan said. ``International security forces us to be in a confederation with Jordan.''
But he said the confederation must be between two independent states on an equal footing. ``It is impossible to live in a confederation with a dictatorship ... we will never go back to Hussein's rule of the Palestinians as in the past.''