PLO: `We Are in a Hurry'

From an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization official Salah Khalaf: How do you assess Wednesday's session of the US-PLO talks?

In the first meeting, essential matters were not discussed. Now the Americans are gathering the intersecting points of view of all parties. From our point of view, it is good that the Americans are not putting forth a plan, but leaving the road open. All we're looking for is that the Americans have a nonaligned stand toward the Middle East conflict.... They have asked us to lessen the violence, but did not demand that we stop the intifadah [uprising].

Is the PLO willing to hold direct talks with Israel outside the context of an international conference?

Not as an alternative to an international conference, but as a preparatory step to an international conference. If it's going to be as an alternative, I would refuse.

Does Israel have to commit itself to an international conference in advance?

The important point of a dialogue would be to persuade Israel to go to an international conference. If Israel accepts a dialogue, it will be easier to get to an international conference.

But do the Israelis need to say, in advance, that they would agree to an international conference?

We would see direct talks as preparatory meetings for an international conference, whether they accept it this way or don't accept it this way.

Are there any preconditions on a final outcome?

We are ready to go into preparatory talks under these circumstances. But if it becomes clear that they are not going to lead to an independent state, there would be no reason to go on.

Who could represent the PLO in such talks?

They [the representatives] would have to be from the PLO - inside the territories or outside the territories.

Do you see any movement on Israel's part?

Until this moment, we consider Shamir anti-peace. This Israeli government will not lead to peace and has to be changed. [Labor Party leader Shimon] Peres is a weak person without a concrete stand. I expect the coalition to collapse at any time.

Is the PLO willing to comply with the US request for both sides to institute confidence-building measures?

In principle we agree, but we want something official. But the intifadah itself is untouchable.

So is time on the PLO's side?

We are in a hurry. We are afraid we will lose this opportunity.

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