Tug-of-war developing over peace pact


TUNIS, Tunisia (AP)—Palestinian opponents of Yasser Arafat’s fledgling peace deal with Israel pursued their campaign against it on Wednesday, hoping to overturn it by democratic or violent means.

Arafat, facing the deepest split in the Palestine Liberation Organization since it was formed nearly 30 years ago, returned to his headquarters and called immediate meetings on how to rally support and heal the leadership rift.

His return came two days after he signed the landmark peace treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington. The accord grants limited self-rule to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho and sets up a timetable for expanding autonomy to other areas and negotiating a permanent agreement.

Opponents consider it seriously flawed, complaining that it does not guarantee the creation of an independent state or the return of refugees and ignores the critical issue of the status of Jerusalem.

Arafat scheduled meetings with senior aides to discuss the crisis, PLO officials said.

He also was to call meetings soon of the PLO Executive Committee, which has suffered five defections because of the accord, and the 18-member ruling Central Committee of his own mainstream Fatah faction.

‘‘God willing, it (the accord) will pave the way for similar peace accord on all Arab fronts,’‘ Arafat said on his return.

‘‘It started with Palestine. Yesterday (Tuesday) it was Jordan, and later on it will be Syria and Lebanon,’‘ he predicted.

Two of the pact’s staunchest opponents, George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh, met in Tripoli with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi has harshly criticized the pact and has said in a nationally televised speech that Libya ‘‘will not keep quiet about this mockery.’‘

Hawatmeh, a Jordanian, heads the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Habash, a Palestinian Christian, leads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The two Syrian-based groups are the biggest in the PLO after Arafat’s Fatah.

Hawatmeh was reported to have been in Tunis two days earlier, seeking to forge an alliance with Arafat’s opponents in the PLO hierarchy.

The two leaders already are allied with eight non-PLO factions in opposition to the U.S.-backed Middle East peace talks.

Hawatmeh and Habash also were expected to plead their case in Syria. It was unclear what kind of reception they would get.

On Wednesday, President Clinton and Syrian President Hafez Assad talked by phone and pledged mutual cooperation in advancing the peace process, according to Assad spokesman Jubran Kurieh.

Kurieh quoted Clinton as having ‘‘underscored the importance of continuing endeavors to achieve progress on all tracks.’‘

Although there have been breakthroughs in Israel’s talks with the PLO and Jordan, which signed a negotiating agenda on Tuesday, there has been no progress in Syrian and Lebanese negotiations.

In the Jordanian capital Amman, the Muslim fundamentalist Hamas said it had rejected an invitation from Arafat’s people to meet in Yemen to discuss their differences. Hamas, which is not part of the PLO, has widespread support among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Nazzal, the Hamas representative in Jordan, said Arafat ‘‘has sent us several messages through Arab envoys in recent days.’‘ He added: ‘‘It is useless to meet with Arafat after he committed his crime of recognizing the Zionist enemy and signed a peace treaty with them.’‘

PLO sources said Arafat emissaries have been sent to various Arab capitals to persuade opponents of the accord who have left Tunis in recent days to return and make up with Arafat.

The sources said a key figure Arafat wants to woo back is Khaled al-Hassan, a veteran Fatah leader currently in Morocco.

He and his younger brother Hani were staunch Arafat associates until the PLO leader’s catastrophic decision to back Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The official Iraqi News Agency reported Wednesday that the PLO’s ‘‘foreign minister,’‘ Farouk Kaddoumi, met in Baghdad Tuesday with Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz. It gave no details.

PLO officials said Kaddoumi was in Baghdad to explain the peace pact and seek Iraq’s backing, even though he was one of the members of the PLO’s ruling Executive Committee who rejected the accord last week.

An Arafat loyalist, Kaddoumi has repeatedly urged opponents of the pact to try to overturn it through democratic means.

Hard-liners have called for Arafat to be assassinated.