Israel prevented a delegation of moderate Arab leaders from crossing into Jordan today to try to persuade Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to recognize the existence of Israel.
The group of about a dozen West Bank Palestinians, including the deposed mayors of most of the major towns, had been scheduled to meet with Arafat Monday in what they said was an attempt to persuade him to accept U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, which implicitly recognize the right of Israel to exist within secure borders.
The West Bank Palestinians' decision to approach Arafat followed a meeting last month with Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy at the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, at which Murphy reportedly encouraged them to pressure Arafat to accept the U.N. resolutions.
Israel's military government in the West Bank, however, denied the Arab leaders permission to cross the Allenby Bridge at the Jordanian border, saying that the meeting would violate regulations against West Bank Palestinians having any contact with the PLO.
An official of the military government said that the meeting also would have enhanced the political standing of the PLO leader.
One of the Arabs, Hanna Siniora, editor of the pro-PLO East Jerusalem newspaper Al Fajr, criticized the decision tonight, saying it undermined efforts to reach peace between Israel and Jordan. Siniora is one of two members of a proposed joint Jordanian-Palestinian peace delegation who have been declared by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to be acceptable to Israel.
"We wanted the delegation to go openly in order to show both sides that the Palestinians in the occupied territories are working for peace," Siniora said. "Now, if the military authorities in the occupied territories don't want the delegation to go, we understand from this that they don't want us to make progress toward peace, and I really feel unhappy about this situation."
The delegation also included deposed mayors Rashid Shawa of Gaza City and Mustafa Natche of Hebron.