IN an interview here last week, before Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir released a 20-point plan this weekend, Bassam Abu Sharif discussed elections for the Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Mr. Abu Sharif is an adviser to Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abu Sharif said that the PLO will accept elections that are ``free'' and that are part of a larger political process leading to Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories and Palestinian self-determination.
He called self-determination ``a principle that nobody on earth can deny to another people.''
``It is the right of the Palestinians to choose after the end of the occupation the system they want, the government they want. And Israelis and others cannot put as a precondition on the Palestinians what they should choose for themselves,'' the PLO official said.
``We will accept an interim period through which the United Nations or an international force will have mandatory power, ... paving the way for an international conference because [limited] autonomy is not the thing that we want,'' said Abu Sharif. Palestinians fear that limited autonomy under Israeli sovereignty - the immediate goal of Mr. Shamir's plan - would become permanent.
Abu Sharif said that a mechanism was needed to guarantee the results of the elections. He said that Palestinians who were elected as mayors in the occupied territories in 1976 were no longer in their posts.
Two of them were gravely injured by bomb attacks carried out by a Jewish underground movement in 1980, and two others were expelled to Jordan. All the rest were subsequently deposed by the Israeli authorities, who appointed their successors. Ninety-six out of the 117 mayors elected in the 1976 municipal elections had been PLO supporters, Abu Sharif said.
The PLO, Abu Sharif said, has made three demands of the Israeli government as part of the election process: a commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 242, an end to ``state terrorism,'' and a comprehensive settlement that includes the other parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He stressed that the PLO is committed to establishing a Palestinian state that would ``live side-by-side with Israel.''
He indicated that the PLO is willing to be flexible. ``If there is no room for compromise, why should we sit and talk?'' Abu Sharif asked.