Issam Sartawi, the only leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization willing to advocate recognition of Israel, resigned today from the PLO's parliament-in-exile to protest being prevented from stating his views at its meeting here.
Neither his view nor the refusal to hear them was new, since the last Palestine National Council meeting, held in Damascus in 1981, had excluded the PLO's man in charge of making contacts with Israelis. But the incident illustrated PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's difficulty in keeping the present, week-old session on course and preventing seething internal disputes from destroying the public image of unity so desperately sought after the guerrillas' expulsion from Beirut last summer.
Sartawi, Arafat's envoy to Western Europe, announced his resignation this morning only hours after Arafat prevented him from speaking by persuading 10 other speakers to withdraw their names, thus ending the long plenary debate.
An angry Sartawi told reporters today that "America has stated clearly that if the PLO makes such a declaration" recognizing Israel, the United States "would recognize the PLO. Why is it that the PLO did not do that?"
Accusing Arafat of violating principles of democracy, Sartawi said he resigned to show that "our institutions are not up to the standards demanded by our people."
He said he had planned to tell the council that the PLO had already recognized Israel implicitly when it endorsed the so-called Brezhnev Plan in 1981, which provided for guarantees of all states in the region within secure borders.
He indicated that he had also wanted to question the PLO leadership's handling of the Israeli siege of Beirut last summer and its repercussions.
"If Beirut was a victory," he said, citing a now consecrated PLO view, "all we need is a series of such victories and we will hold our next meeting in the Fiji Islands."
Later, council spokesman Ahmad Abdel Rahman told reporters that Sartawi had erred in advocating recognition of Israel in an interview published Feb. 7 in The Washington Post. The spokesman said that Sartawi, as a member of Fatah, the mainstream guerrilla organization, was subject to its discipline and that the ideas he expressed "did not reflect at all the position of the Fatah leadership."
Arafat's loyalists suggested that the PLO chairman was especially intent on preventing further arguments over the Israeli issue. Largely because of his own free-wheeling decision to meet with three leading antigovernment Israelis last month--without consulting his Fatah colleagues--the whole issue of contacts with Israelis has consumed hours of private discussions here.
Opposition to meeting any but "anti-Zionist" Israelis was overcome only when Fatah and the more radical groups settled on a new formula. Henceforth, any democratic, progressive Israelis advocating establishment of an independent Palestinian state are acceptable interlocutors.
Salah Khalaf, Arafat's Fatah lieutenant better known as Abu Iyad, signaled the key change Friday night when he described as "the best among us" Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk, who wrote a book about the Shatila refugee camp massacre last September and is here covering the council meeting.
Another reason cited to justify denying Sartawi a chance to speak was fear that he might denounce Abu Nidal, the leader of a dissident Palestinian terrorist group that has killed many moderate Palestinians. Sartawi has told recent visitors to his Paris office of his desire to have the council denounce Abu Nidal, who returned to Iraq last year from a sojourn in Syria.
PLO relations with Syria are so strained that Arafat, observers said, did not want to risk his recently improved ties with the rival Arab Baath Socialist Party government in Iraq.