Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arafat Takes Heat off May 4 Deadline Oslo Accords Are Set to Expire, but the Leader Is Unlikely to Declare aPalestinian State Soon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arafat Takes Heat off May 4 Deadline Oslo Accords Are Set to Expire, but the Leader Is Unlikely to Declare aPalestinian State Soon

Article excerpt

The possibility that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would follow through on his warnings to unilaterally declare a state on May 4 has been the time bomb ticking beneath the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

It now seems clear that Mr. Arafat will defuse that danger, moving closer to postponing the declaration in recent days. And as a result of what at times appeared to be a race to see who could get more mileage out of the standoff - Arafat or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - the Palestinian leader seems to be leaping ahead by winning new words of support from the United States and enthusiastic backing at home.

More than 100 members of the Palestine Central Council (PCC), a governing body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), began convening at Arafat's office here on Tuesday in order to determine whether next week is the appropriate time for the Palestinians to declare statehood. May 4 marks the end of the five-year period of Palestinian autonomy outlined in the Oslo accords. Palestinians believe that the natural product of that process is a state of their own. The Israeli government says that a variety of options exist, and that such matters must be worked out around the negotiating table. But Mr. Netanyahu pulled away from those talks, halting further peace moves soon after signing the Wye accords last October, when he came under intense pressure from his right-wing constituency. Israeli lawmakers called new elections last December, signaling that Israel would not implement any steps in the accords for at least another six months. The prospect of the declaration of a Palestinian state, with or without Israel's say-so, is a worrisome prospect for Israelis. They fear that many nations of the world would offer recognition to the newborn state, diminishing Israel's power to influence what it would look like. Netanyahu says that if Arafat tries such a contentious maneuver, Israel will annex all parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip still under its control. According to many scenarios, a military confrontation might ensue. Such saber-rattling over the issue seemed about to scale down as senior Palestinian officials suggested they would opt for postponement, or at least continue deliberations until after Israeli elections. "I don't think we need to be in a hurry to decide whether to declare or postpone," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian Information Minister, after the meeting got under way. Arafat told PLO members that the most important thing is that a de facto Palestinian state is already functioning on the ground. "We don't need to affirm our state, because we are actually exercising statehood," the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Arafat as telling the assembly, which was closed to the press. …

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