Israel's parliament today gave initial approval to a bill that would ban most unauthorized contact, here or abroad, between Israeli citizens and representatives of "terrorist organizations," including the Palestine Liberation Organization.
If strictly interpreted, the bill -- which faces two more votes -- could subject members of parliament who meet with PLO officials, as several have done, to three-year prison terms. It also could prevent Israeli journalists from interviewing prominent West Bank Arabs who are members of the Palestine National Council, the PLO's parliament-in-exile.
The measure would prohibit contact between any Israeli citizen with an "official representative" of a "terrorist organization" or with anyone who holds a leadership post in such an organization. The Israeli government classifies the PLO as a terrorist organization.
The bill was passed on first reading today by a show of hands after Justice Minister Moshe Nissim said four exceptions to the ban will be written into it. These would exempt family meetings between Israeli Arabs and relatives who are PLO representatives; international conferences at which proscribed groups participate along with acceptable organizations; cases of "real distress," such as parents of Israeli prisoners-of-war meeting with PLO officials, and news conferences in which PLO officials take part with other participants.
Liberals in the parliament condemned the measure, saying it would block informal dialogue with Palestinian leaders and reduce the chances for comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Dan Meridor, a Likud member of the Knesset, said in an interview after the vote that as long as Israel is in armed struggle with the PLO, such meetings should not take place.
Two Knesset members from the Progressive List for Peace, Matityahu Peled, a former Army general, and Mohammed Miari, who were not present for the vote, said they were on their way to Geneva to meet with a PLO representative, Shafiq Hout.