JERUSALEM — A delegation of Israeli leftists flew to Romania on Wednesday to meet with Palestine Liberation Organization leaders, defying Israeli law and angry relatives of terrorist victims who tried to stop them at the airport.
The group, which because of government pressure and internal bickering had dropped in size from a planned 100 to about 30, is scheduled to meet today in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, with a delegation of 31 PLO representatives.
"We are going to make a dialogue for peace," said Latif Dori, head of the Israeli delegation and a member of the leftist Mapam party, which opposed the meeting.
Atty. Gen. Yosef Harish has said that Israeli law prohibits such meetings, but Dori said Wednesday: "We are not breaking the law. This is a law against peace, and we are going with a peace mission. If necessary, I am ready to stand trial and go to jail for it."
At Ben-Gurion International Airport, where demonstrators had to be physically separated from the leftists and restrained, one demonstrator shouted: "We're from families of Jews that have been murdered by terrorists! These Communists are going to meet with the murderers of our families."
The Palestinians at today's talks are to include three members of the 10-man PLO executive committee and will be led by Mohammed Milhem, the former mayor of Halhoul. Milhem was expelled from the West Bank by the Israeli occupation authorities in 1980.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres have both condemned the planned meeting as illegal and ill-advised. And Atty. Gen. Harish warned that a police investigation will be undertaken the moment the Israeli group returns. Harish said the Prevention of Terror Law specifically forbids meetings between Israeli citizens and PLO officials.
Challenge to Law
The Israelis planned the trip in part to challenge the controversial law, which was enacted under extraordinary conditions on the last day of the parliamentary summer session in August.
Shamir's rightist Likud Bloc favored the bill, but it was opposed by Peres' centrist Labor Alignment, which shares power in the coalition government. Labor had pressed for another law that would forbid incitement to racism, and Likud, under pressure from Israel's religious parties, opposed the Labor measure.
In what was subsequently seen as a shrewd parliamentary maneuver by Likud, a compromise was drawn up, including both the measure to prohibit meetings with PLO officials and a version of the racism measure so watered down that right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane, at whom the bill was directed, voted for it.
Characterized as Terrorists
There is broad consensus in Israel against negotiating with the PLO, which is characterized officially as a terrorist organization. But the political left argues that it will be impossible to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict without talking to an organization that Palestinians recognize as their sole legitimate representative.
News that the leftists planned to fly to Bucharest at the Romanian government's invitation sparked a heated political controversy in the days leading up to their departure.
Officials clearly hoped to stop the trip rather than face the potential embarrassment of arresting the leftists on their return, and hoped as well to avoid what will be a well publicized trial if it comes to that.
"It is going to look very awkward to prosecute people when it is clear that it was not their intention to damage the security of the state," Miriam Gur-Arye, a professor of criminal law, told the Jerusalem Post.
'Theater of Absurd'
Peres referred to the leftist effort as "theater of the absurd" and said: "What will they do in Romania? With whom will they speak and on whose behalf? Their acts won't contribute anything to the peace process."
Shamir said the trip, in addition to being illegal, is "useless and even harmful from the political point of view."