A significant shift in the attitude of previously hard-line Palestinian groups has been indicated in recent statements, prompting analysts to suggest that Eygpt and Syria may have succeeded in persuading the Palestinians to make concessions toward peace in the Middle East.
Israel reacted cautiously and with some skepticism yesterday to apparent Palestinian concessions, but Israeli Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, meanwhile, praised as a possible "turning point" a proposal by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that any future Palestinian state on the West Bank be linked to Jordan.
Despite the apparent overtures by some Palestinians, however, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reaffirmed at yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that the only Palestinian representatives his government would be ready to negotiate with at the Geneva conference would be those attending as members of the Jordanian delegation.
Within the last few days, there have been these indications of changed Arab attitudes toward Middle East peace:
A leading Israeli dove, Mitityahu Peled, said he met Saturday in Paris with a top leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who signed a document saying the PLO was prepared to begin negotiations for establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel after Israel withdraws from land occupied in the 1976 war.
Zuheir Mohsen, a leader of the Syrian-backed Saiqu Palestinian guerrilla organization, said in an interview with a Lebanese magazine that the guerrilla movement is prepared to exchange concessions with Israel, within limits.
Sadat, in an interview with The Washington Post, said that any Palestinian state should be linked to Jordan - a key element of Israel's demand for a peace settlement. This and other portions of Sadat's interview were published in Cairo's Arabic language newspapers yesterday.
Peled, a former Israeli army general and now a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, showed reporters a document Saturday night in which, he said, the PLO recognized Israel as a sovereign Jewish state. In the past, the PLO has pledged to fight for Israel's destruction.
Peled refused to name the Palestinian who had met with him in Paris and signed the document, intimating only that he was "in charge of coordinating the peace efforts of the PLO."
Washington Post special correspondent Yuval Elizur reported from Jerusalem that it was assumed there that the Palestinian was Assam Sirtawi, who, in the past, has unofficially represented the PLO in the United States.
Peled is a leader of the Israeli Council for Peace Between Israeli and Palestinian Peoples. Other members include leftist members of Israel's Parliament, writers and former government officials.
The signing of the document, Peled said, followed a series of meetings between leaders of his council and PLO representatives. He said most of the meetings took place in Paris.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman refused to comment on Peled's assertion, but said that until the PLO public changes its founding covenant, which declares the destruction of Israel as its ultimate aim, eveything else is just propaganda."
The Israeli press also expressed skepticism about Saiqa leader Mohsen's statements, noting that he said that any peace settlement with Israel should be considered only temporary.
Mohsen said: "Naturally we will not forfeit our historic rights. But if we are to seek liberation, then we might have to endorse a truce. With every concession we must be able to regain some of our national rights. All previous revolutions had at some stage or the other to exercise some sort of retreat for peace seeking.
Jordanian and Palestinian officials, in separate statements carried by the Egyptian Middle East News Agency yesterday, praised Sadat's call for a link between Jordan and the proposed Palestinian state.
Jordanian Information Minister Adnan Abu Odeh was quoted as saying that the proposal showed Sadat's "realism and objectivity."
Khaled Hassan, a leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah guerrilla group, was quoted in a dispatch from Kuwait as saying: "We believe in Arab unity just as we believe in liberation. The question that is more pressing now is to set up a unified political leadership embracing Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the PLO."
Washington Post correspondent Thomas W. Lippman reported from Cairo that informed observers and diplomatic specialists there saw Sadat's comments and the play they were given in the Arab press there and elsewhere as further evidence that Sadat and Assad have laid down the law to the Palestinian leadership and now expected to bring them to the bargaining table on Egypt's and Syria's terms.
The prevailing theory is that Assad and Sadat, realistic men, understand that a West Bank-Gaza state simply cannot stand alone. They feel it would be better to link it formally with Jordan, probably under a formula that preserves as much independence as possible, than to encourage further links with Israel - to which the West bank is closely tied economically - or to leave the field open to what they consider troublemakers, like Iraq. Arafat's acceptance of this, and the apparent acceptance by even such people as Mohsen, is believed to have been Syria's price for calling off its campaign to oust the current Palestinian leadership. The anticipated creation of a Palestinian government in exile is expected t reflect these two things.
Sadat said last week that he and Assad agreed the time has come for the Palesitnians to set up such a government, a step they have long resisted. Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO's unofficial foreign minister, was quoted in an interview in Kuwait as saying this matter would definitely be taken up when the Palestine National Council convenes in Cairo next month.
Prevailing opinion in Cairo, Lippman reported, is that Arabs - Egypt, Syria and the Saudis, plus Jordan and the Palestinians - are doing what they can to chip away at possible Israeli objections to a peace agreement. This accounts for Sadat's insistence that the Israelis are welcome to any guarantees they want, and for the suggestion of a confederation with Jordan, observers in Cairo believe.