MADRID, Spain (AP) _ For Saeb Erekat, a black-and-white checked keffiyeh around his neck was a defiant symbol of the Palestinian nation he wants established.

For the Israelis, who already had misgivings about his participation in the Mideast peace conference because of his allegiance to the Palestine Liberation Organization, it was like waving a red flag.

A bearded professor of political science from the West Bank, Erekat looks much older than his 36 years. He is one of the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation's more hard-line members.

However, he is not as extreme as some Palestinians who reject the peace process and threaten to blow it up.

He had caused a furor even before the conference began when he said the PLO had chosen the Palestinian delegation. Israel insists it will not negotiate with the PLO, which it regards as a terrorist organization.

Israeli officials even hinted they might consider pulling out of the conference if Erekat remained. To smooth things over, Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini issued a statement complaining about unauthorized comments by Palestinian delegates.

The latest Erekat-inspired stir was provoked by his dress.

''I am really surprised that this keffiyeh that is a symbol of peace and love and Palestinian culture provokes (Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Mr. Shamir,'' Erekat said.

''This keffiyeh is worn all over the occupied Palestinian land. ... A symbolism of my nation, and if this provokes them, they really need a lot of reconsideration and rethinking.''

Now he says the Israelis don't want him in bilateral talks that were to begin Sunday.

''They won't enter a room if I'm in there,'' Erekat said in an interview. He said he had not decided whether to attend.

''I don't want to be the cause for blowing up the peace conference, and on the other hand, I refuse the Israeli policy of imposing and dictating on us its terms,'' he said.

At a news conference late Saturday, Israeli spokesman Benjamin Netanyahu did not respond directly when asked whether the Israelis had objected to meeting Erekat.

''The idea is not to make provocations and not to make a spectacle of this,'' Netanyahu said.

Erekat said his personal overtures to Israeli delegates at the conference have been snubbed.

''I approached someone from the Israeli delegation ... to shake his hand, and he said, 'You embarrass me,' and he ran away.''

Palestinians considered the formal opening of the peace conference a start, but ''the real negotiations and test of intentions starts tomorrow,'' Erekat said.

At stake is the fate of 1.7 million Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. Erekat is among them.

''I am a father of four children. I am really scared that my children will grow up because I know if they grow up under Shamir's rule, he will kill them,'' Erekat said.

''We have to learn maybe how to live as neighbors, how to exist as neighbors. ... We are offering a rapprochement.''