Palestine looks at membership of Commonwealth

Patrick Cockburn Jerusalem
Wednesday 19 February 1997 00:02 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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Will Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, attend future Commonwealth conferences? The problem is that the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state and the Commonwealth has no associate membership. Once the Palestinians achieve self-determination, however, the Commonwealth Secretary GeneralEmeka Anyaoku sees no obstacle to Palestine becoming the 54th member of the organisation.

The issue of associate membership was raised by Afif Safieh, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative to Britain, at a meeting in London last weekend. Despite British control between the wars over large parts of the Middle East, there are no Commonwealth members from the region, although Yemen has applied."Maybe the PLO is far-sighted in not considering the organisation an empire under a new guise," Michael Fathers, spokesman for the Commonwealth secretariat, said yesterday.

Mozambique, never part of the British empire, joined the Commonwealth in 1995, and the case for the membership of a Palestinian state is historically much stronger. Relics of the British presence prior to handing over to the United Nations in despair in 1948 survive in Israel and the occupied territories. When Israeli troops withdrew from most of Hebron last month they pulled out of a grim fortress on a hill overlooking the city which the authorities had built during the 30 years' British rule.

The advantages of membership to the Palestinians is unclear as Mr Arafat has greater access to world leaders than most states belonging to the UN. t Commonwealth foreign ministers have delayed taking action against Nigeria, which has been suspended from the group because of the military government's execution of dissidents.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group ended a two-day meeting in London yes- terday saying it was inviting information from "all interested parties" before writing its report for the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh in October.

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