Khalid Fahoum, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization's unofficial parliament-in-exile, said today that the PLO did not want to destroy Israel, but he shied away from pledging to recognize it under what he called Prime Minister Menachem Begin's "racist and expansionist stewardship."
"We don't want to drive anybody into the sea," Fahoum said at a news conference, paraphrasing traditional Israeli accusations that the PLO was determined to "throw the Jews into the sea."
"Nor," he added, "do we want to be driven into the desert." Fahoum, the presiding officer of the Palestine National Council, was responding to persistent efforts to pin down the PLO attitude toward Point 7 of the Arab League's peace plan, which provides for the security of all states in the region to be guaranteed by the U.N. Security Council.
Fahoum declared himself "100 percent sure there will be no split" in PLO ranks and that chairman Yasser Arafat would "come out stronger than ever" at the council meeting here. But Arafat's Palestinian critics kept up their harassing tactics in an effort to limit the new mandate for the chairman that even they concede he is sure to win at the end of the meeting.
Much to the shock and anger of Arafat loyalists, Farouk Kaddoumi, the head of the PLO foreign department or "foreign ministry," joined the critics and even hinted, without naming Arafat, that the chairman had operated beyond agreed policy parameters.
Long considered pro-Soviet, Kaddoumi echoed Moscow's tough line in denouncing President Reagan's peace plan as no different from the Camp David accords that led to Israel's separate peace with Egypt and that many Palestinians believe led to their eviction from Beirut last summer.
To thunderous applause, Kaddoumi said the Reagan plan, which provides for an association between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, in fact simply considers "Jordan as a replacement for Palestine."
The plan was aimed at "liquidating" the Palestinian revolution, he said, and even the supposedly positive points were a sham.
American policy in the Middle East, he asserted, had but two aims--to strengthen Israel and diminish Soviet influence. He praised the Soviet Bloc and advocated strengthened relations with Syria which stands accused in many delegates' eyes of having tried hard to prevent the Palestine National Council from convening this week.
Kaddoumi also said the present PLO leadership should conduct a thorough self-criticism after the Beirut defeat and pay more attention to the fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Arafat loyalists angrily noted that Kaddoumi was supposed to have presented a formal report on the political department instead of playing to the gallery. They suggested Kaddoumi was getting back at Arafat who increasingly has taken PLO diplomacy into his own hands and deliberately snubbed his "foreign minister."
The Reagan Middle East plan, announced Sept. 1, rules out an independent Palestinian state but calls for a Palestinian entity associated with Jordan on land now occupied by Israel. The final wording of the council's statement dealing with the Reagan plan is expected to refrain from formal rejection, but the message here appears to be that no one in the PLO really believes the president's ideas are viable.
Because Begin has rejected the plan out of hand, it is in the PLO's interest to show at least formal interest despite basic misgivings. Yet, even the perceived wisdom of having Israel alone reject the plan has come under attack here, largely because the United States is viewed as having done nothing to demonstrate its credibility in the Middle East.
American failure to persuade or force the Israeli Army to leave Lebanon was also reported to have discouraged King Hussein of Jordan from joining peace talks with Israel as desired by the United States.