PLO leaders, faced with growing dissension among radical factions, met Saturday to discuss forming a government for an independent Palestinian state and map the next move in crucial talks with the United States.
Most of the 15 members of the PLO's governing body attended the meeting at chief Yasser Arafat's home outside Baghdad, Palestine Liberation Organization officials said.The meeting followed growing opposition by radical Palestinian factions and some figures within the PLO to Arafat's stated recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism.
U.S. officials insisted on such statements before they would deal with the PLO.
Azzam Ahmed, the PLO representative in Baghdad, said the committee will discuss the Dec. 16 talks opened in Tunisia with the United States and map out the future Palestinian moves in the dialogue.
The talks were the first direct contact between the PLO and Washington in 13 years. If sustained, the talks could lead to a breakthrough in the tortuous quest to end the 40-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.
Ahmed gave no details, but stressed the committee will explore "all the possible ways to advance the constructive dialogue."
The committee also is discussing efforts for international Middle East peace conference and the formation of a provisional government for the independent Palestinian state declared by the PLO's Palestine National Council last month.
PLO officials said earlier that the provisional government might not actually be named during the committee meeting because "further consultations may be needed."
Sixty-nine countries have recognized the still-symbolic Palestinian state. While in Baghdad, Arafat will lay the cornerstone of a Palestinian embassy, PLO officials said.
Ahmed said the committee also will review the yearlong Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza and "ways of escalating resistance to the occupation forces." At least 334 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have died.
Arafat arrived in Baghdad late Friday after flying from Rome, where he met earlier with Pope Paul II and Italian leaders.
Ahmed indicated that the PLO might call for an Arab summit to press for an international peace conference under U.N. auspices.
It is not clear how extensive opposition within the executive committee is to Arafat's moves.
One member, Mustafa Zibri, deputy leader of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, attacked Arafat's peace initiative.On Monday, Zibri declared that Arafat's recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism "were only Arafat's personal opinion and are incompatible" with resolutions passed by the Palestine National Council.
He warned: "We will continue to exercise our legitimate rights in struggling against the occupation by all means available, including armed struggle."
Palestinian dissidents based in Syria warned Tuesday they will continue "the armed struggle" against Israel to torpedo his peace moves and will seek to oust him from PLO leadership.