Challenge to Rabin as negotiators come out of PLO closet: Arafat names peace team officials as members of his group. Sarah Helm reports from Jerusalem

YASSER ARAFAT, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, yesterday issued his most direct challenge yet to Israel to recognise the PLO by naming seven members of the Palestinian negotiating team as official members of the organisation.

The announcement means that when Israel and the Palestinian peace team sit down together at the next round of talks - which Washington says will happen next month - the Israeli side will no longer be able to pretend that they are not talking direct to the PLO. If the Israeli negotiators do not walk out, Mr Arafat will have achieved a dramatic political coup: de facto recognition of the PLO by Israel.

Until now Israel has refused to talk direct to the PLO, which it still terms officially a 'terrorist' organisation. Instead Israel talks to Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza, ignoring the well-known fact that they are PLO in all but name.

In recent months, however, Israel has shown a sudden softening towards the PLO leadership, which increasingly looks to the Israeli government like a bastion of moderation in comparison with radical Palestinian Islamic bodies.

Barriers which keep Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mr Arafat apart have been removed at such a rapid rate that the prospect one day of a Rabin-Arafat summit has moved from the realm of the impossible to the conceivable.

Last night's announcement from PLO headquerters in Tunis said seven Palestinian negotiators from the Israeli occupied territories had become members of the PLO leadership committee directing the peace talks. These included Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian leader in the occupied territories, and Hanan Ashrawi, the delegation spokeswoman.

Exactly how Mr Rabin will react to the news was not clear. Government spokesman, Uri Dromi, was guarded in his reaction, but suggested that Israel would not look 'favourably' on such a ploy.

However, Mr Arafat must have carefully calculated that in view of the change in Israeli attitudes to the PLO, and Israel's impatience to make progress in the talks, the Israeli negotiators are unlikely to walk out. After all, the Palestinians sitting opposite them at the next round will not be in any way different to those present at previous rounds. They will simply have 'come out'.

The announcement from Tunis comes at the end of a crisis week for the PLO. While clearly aimed at winning direct contacts with Israel, the appointment of the seven Palestinians to the organisation - to be seconded to a leadership committee directing the peace talks - is also aimed at ending an internal power struggle.

On Sunday three of the peace team, Mr Husseini, Mrs Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat, a senior negotiator, threatened to leave the negotiations, angered by their lack of influence on how policy is decided. The executive committee of the PLO met yesterday and rejected their resignations.

By officially bringing the three rebels inside the PLO fold, and promising greater co-ordination with the occupied territories in peace talks policy, Mr Arafat has effectively bonded the 'inside' Palestinian leaders more closely to his 'outside' power-base.

When he left the executive committee meeting earlier yesterday Mr Husseini sounded like a man who had felt the crack of the whip, saying he promised, from now on, to bow to Tunis and 'to work within the line expressed by the PLO'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before