Sol Linowitz, President Carter's special Middle East envoy, met with two prominent Palestinian policians today in an effort to gain support for the U.S. sponsored autonomy talks between Egypt and Israel.
Linowitz, in Israel to preside over a new round of talks, met first in a Jerusalem suburb with Anwar Khatib, mayor of Jersalem during Jordanian rule over the Holy City. He then drove to Gaza for discussions with Rashad Shawa, mayor of its principal town and the area's main political leader.
Each of its own way, the two meetings underlined Palestinian reluctance to get involved in the autonomy negotiations set up under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of last March. A Palestinian boycott of the talks, including refusal in advance to participate in the self-rule that is their goal, is a major obstacle facing Linowitz and his Egyptian and Israeli negotiating partners.
At the same time, the fact that the two Palestinians met with Linowitz at all was seen as a modest success. In contrast, U.S. efforts to arrange similiar discussions with Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank -- particularly Mayor Ellias Freij of Bethlehem -- were met with a snub.
Freij, a Christian generally regarded as more moderate than his fellow West Bank mayors, accepted an invitation to meet last September with Robert Strauss, Linowitz's predecessor in the talks.This time, however, he abided by a joint resolution of the mayors' National Guidance Committee to shun any invitations for talks with the U.S. negotiator.
Khatib has exercised little real power since Israel annexed Arab Jerusalem following its capture in the 1967 Middle East war. But he is still considered loyal to Hussein, to whom he reports regularly on conditions in Jerusalem. Linowitz conferred with Hussein in London last Saturday, when today's discussions were believed to have been arranged.
Despite the apparent green light from Hussein, Khatib attempted to keep his meeting with Linowtiz secret. When he saw journalists at the U.S. Consulate branch in East Jerusalem, where the gathering was scheduled, he turned away and went to the nearby YMCA. From there, he and Linowitz drove separately to the suburb of Beit Hanina, where they finally conferred in a private home.
Khatib's reluctance to be identified as cooperating with Linowitz reflected firm opposition to the Camp David process decided by the Palestine Liberation Organization of Yasser Arafat. Although Khatib is not close to the PLO, the guerrilla group's widespread support on the West Bank and among Palestinians in Jordan make it impolite and possibly even dangerous for him to be seen meeting with the top U.S. official assigned to carry it out.
Shawa, a PLO supporter who nevertheless is known for keeping lines out in several directions, said he acceeded to Linowitz's request for a meeting as part of a longstanding policy of "seeing any person who wants to, and to explain our national position to him."
"This is exactly what I did today," he told reporters after an hour of talks with Linowitz in his one-story home in Gaza town.
Shawa expressed strong opposition to an Egyptian suggestion that Palestinian autonomy be carried out first in Gaza, then only later extended to the politically more difficult West Bank. He said Linowitz had indicated to him that the United States also sees advantages in the Egyptian idea, but added:
"We object to this very strongly because by implementing any autonomy in Gaza alone, we would be weakening the general Palestinian position. We are against the autonomy plan in principle. But even if we were not, we would object because it should be implemented at the same time in Gaza and the West Bank.
In addition, Shawa said he emphasized to Linowitz his fealty to Arafat and the PLO as the only representative of the Palestinians, adding that only the PLO can negotiate for them.
"There is no possibility of participation of any kind [in the talks] because the points of view of the Israelis and the Egyptians are so far apart," he said. "The best thing possible that we can expect from the talks is that they can be brought to a point that could make it possible for the Palestinians to be able to participate."
This point, he continued, would be reached only when the PLO is brought into the negotiations and longstanding Palestinian demands are within reach, including:
Full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian self-determination, including the possibility of an independent state.
Dismantlement of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Restoration of East Jerusalem to Arab sovereignty, making it "our eternal capital for our future Palestinian state."