Donald McHenry, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, winding up a seven-nation Middle East fact-finding tour, today met with West Bank Palestinian leaders in a wide-ranging discussion of the prospects for peace.
McHenry, made it clear, however, that he was not here to sell them anything, and the West Bank leaders made it clear that they were not buying anything. They said they were going against a longstanding West Bank boycott of such meetings with U.S. officials because McHenry is not involved in negotiations for the limited Palestinian autonomy envisioned under the Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
The West Bank leaders emphasized to McHenry that he was, in effect, talking to the Palestine Liberation Organization, in that they support the PLO as the only legitimate bargaining representatives of the 1.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to U.S. sources who attended the closed-door session.
The West Bank leaders who attended are regarded as moderates who, while supporting the PLO, retain close ties to Jordan. The most prominent were Bethlehem Mayor Eilas Freij, Nablus Debuty Mayor Hekmat Masri and East Jerusalem's Anwar Nusseibeh, who is a former defense minister of Jordan.
The three leaders complained about Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank.
Nusseibeh said he agreed to meet McHenry, in contrast to the boycott of U.S. special envoy Sol Linowitz three weeks ago, because "Ambassador McHenry represents his country before the U.N., which is a world body, while Ambassador Linowitz came here for a specific purpose -- to conduct autonomy negotiations within a specific framework, which I do not accept."
As the leaders met with McHenry, general strikes and demonstrations were held in several West Bank towns, including Nablus, Ramallah and El Biera, to protest a ban on most West Bank and Gaza mayors from traveling to a planned "Palestinian National Congress" at East Jerusalem's Al Aqua mosque. The Congress, organized by the militant Supreme Moslem Council, was to have discussed "national issues" including Israeli settlements.
Meanwhile, three leading West Bank mayors who did not meet with McHenry today, Ramallah's Karim Khalaf, Halhoul's Mohammed Milhem and Nablus' Bassam Shaka, said they will go to Amman Wednesday to attend a meeting of the joint Jordanian-PLO committee on the occupied territories. a
McHenry, who is scheduled to go to Tunis Wednesday before returning to the United States, met for two hours today with Yosef Ciechanover, director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, to discuss issues on the U.N. agenda that affect Israel. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the issues include a Moroccan resolution on Hebron settlement and a Jordanian resolution against Jewish outposts in general.