A HISTORIC Israeli-Palestinian accord is opening the way for the Palestine Liberation Organization to ease its political isolation and solve its financial crisis.
Although PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is still confronting bitter opposition to the plan from some Palestinian groups, he has secured crucial backing from his mainstream Fatah faction and from Syria - the base of the major leftist Palestinian groups.
Over the weekend, Jordan and the Gulf states also declared their support for the agreement, which provides for limited Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho as a prelude to an overall Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
The declaration by the six oil-producing countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may end a two-year financial cutoff by these states of the PLO, imposed in retaliation for Palestinian support for Iraq during the Gulf war.
The Gulf states' position is important, because the US and Europe are trying to get them to finance the autonomy plan.
President Clinton on Friday sent letters of support for the deal to Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab states. British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday to negotiate the financing arrangement with Gulf leaders. The money needed - estimated at half a billion dollars a year for 10 years after the formal signing of the agreement - would be channeled through the World Bank.
There have been no signs so far that the Gulf states are ready for a total reconciliation with the PLO or if they will resume their financial aid - $100 million a year - to the organization.
Along with concerns about the ultimate status of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories, the Gulf states and other Arab countries are concerned about the fate of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, following the establishment of Israel.
``The GCC states are afraid they will be asked to take in more than 600,000 Palestinians, because the draft accord ignores the fate of refugees of 1948,'' a GCC official says. Lebanese objections
Similar concerns are shared by Jordan and Lebanon, which host the majority of Palestinian refugees. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri has expressed strong objections to the possibility that the plan will lead to the permanent settlement of the 350,000 refugees who live in Lebanon. Most of these Palestinians left their homes in 1948.
Israel has repeatedly refused to discuss the status of the 1948 refugees, even though United Nations Resolution 195 established their right to return. The current accord addresses only the return of refugees displaced in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Jordan, which had initially voiced fears that the accord could cause a new influx of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and other places to Jordan's East Bank, decided over the weekend to give unequivocal support for the accord.
King Hussein's position was a great relief to Arafat, since it would be almost impossible to implement any agreement with Israel regarding the West Bank without Jordan's cooperation.
Syria's reluctant support of the accord is expected to dampen but not to silence hard-line Palestinian opposition. In a brief statement that followed a five-hour meeting with Arafat in Damascus on Sunday, President Hafez al-Assad said that ``the Palestinians were free to decide'' their future.
According to PLO officials, the Syrian position was sufficient to give the green light to Arafat but did not mean that Damascus would exercise stern control, at least for the time being, on some extremist groups that have threatened to assassinate Arafat. Two Palestinian leaders opposed to the deal yesterday refused to meet with him. Communists on board
But Arafat has apparently won over the Palestine People's Party (PPP), formerly the Communist Party, which has considerable influence in the West Bank. In a statement distributed yesterday, the PPP announced a qualified endorsement of the accord - provided it is approved by the Palestinian institutions and the Arab world. The organization had withdrawn from participating in the last three rounds of the Middle East peace process.
Hamas, the militant Islamic resistance movement that has never joined the PLO, has reiterated its rejection of the accord but said that it will not resort to violence against the PLO leadership to thwart it.
Meanwhile, PLO officials are pouring over a draft declaration that will ensure a long-awaited Israeli recognition of the PLO. Arafat's aides, according to Palestinian officials, are trying to sidestep Israel's insistence that the PLO amend a portion of its 1968 charter calling for the liberation of all Palestine - including Israel.
Such an amendment requires an approval of two-thirds of the Palestinian parliament in exile, which Arafat is apparently trying to avoid convening out of concern that it will turn into a forum for his opponents.