After three days of meetings, the prevailing mood at the Palestine National Council appears to be resigned, 'grudging acceptance of the decision by the major Arab powers to seek peace with Israel.
There is much talk, officially and unofficially, of Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1976 and the creation of a Palestinian state on those lands. . There is hardly any talk, except from the most hard line of the rejectionist forces opposing any deal with Israel, of eliminating the Jewish state.
Not that the Palestine Liberation Organization's parliament in exile is going to say this in so many words, conference participants say. On the contrary, past policy statements calling for a prolonged armed struggle against Israel and eventual recapture of all Palestine are likely to be reaffirmed, if they are discussed at all.
But this appears to be, as one well-placed delegate put it, maintaining a posture of militancy "until a suitable offer is received."
Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the PLO's political department and its unofficial foreign minister, asked the council to approve United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3236 of November 1974 that speaks of the "inalienable rights" of the Palestinians to "return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted." The Palestinians interpret this language, which has been vetoed by the United States in the Security Council, to mean their former homes in the portion of the Palestine mandate given to Israel.
Most of the participants, however are not talking of the General Assembly resolution, which is not binding, as a realistic goal, especially since the major Arab powers, led by Egypt, are publicly committed to seeking peace with Israel. "We cannot fight Syrian tanks with resolutions," one said, referring to the Syrian military intervention in Lebanon that curbed the military and political power of the Palestinians and forced them to toe the Syrian-Egyptian-Saudi line.
Delegates say it is clear that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has the gathering under control, meaning that there is not likely to be any major challenge or spilt over the new policy of going along with the mainstream of Arab diplomacy.
Kaddoumi, in his political report, said the PLO would not go to a Geneva peace conference if the meeting is convened under Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These do not refer to the "rights" of the Palestinians, although they do call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Kaddoumi also said the PLO should be invited independently, rather than as part of a combined Arab delegation, if Geneva is convened.
The clear implication of this is that the PLO will go to Geneva, if asked, as is demanded by the other Arab states.
Arafat's Fatah guerrilla organization and its supporters have the votes to control the 292-seat National Council. But a Fatah official said, "We don't want to dictate. There will be some resolutions that won't be acceptable to all, but you have that at any parliamentary meeting."
A major question before the council is how to find a formula that will express them and the hard-line rejection front elements who oppose any negotiation or settlement. One tactic being adopted, informed sources that might stir real feuds if they were formally raised.
One of these is a resolution adopted at the last council in 1974, calling for the overthrow of King Hussein of Jordan and working to set up a "national democratic government" there. It is hard to square this with Arafat's public reconciliation with Hussein last week, which had become a political necessity for the Palestinians since President Anwar Sadat of Egypt said a Palestinian state should be linked with Jordan. So, informed sources say, it will simply not be put on the agenda officially.
There are also signs of a certain wavering in the absolutist positions of some of the Rejection Front groups.
A delegate from the Iraqi-sponsored Arab Liberation Front, for example, said with resignation that "most of these people have continued to let themselves be deceived and want to go along." This splinter group, while not changing its formal position, has shows signs recently of everything into a loyal opposition to Arafat, according to experienced observers of Palestinian affairs.
Bassam Abu Sherif, spokesman for the rejectionists here said that the rejectionists would not oppose creation of a Palestinian state on "any part of Palestine" that could be liberated, an apparent departure from their previous all-or-nothing position. But he also said that they would view it as "only a first step" toward eventual recapture of all Palestine.
Any more by the council to compromise with these principles, he said, would lead the rejectionists to pull out of the PLO as they already have from the Executive Committee and "escalate our struggle."