Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arafat, Netanyahu at Odds over Palestinian State

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arafat, Netanyahu at Odds over Palestinian State

Article excerpt

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told Israel's prime minister-elect on Wednesday that "nobody can stop" the formation of a free Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu replied adamantly that he would not agree to either.

The tough exchange - the first since Netanyahu was elected last week - raised concerns that the two might quickly lock into steadfast positions and make it harder to begin negotiations on a final peace accord.

In an apparent message to Netanyahu, Arafat said he was committed to peace and respected Israel's democratic choice of a conservative prime minister. But he stressed that a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem "is the desire of the Palestinian people and nobody can stop it."

He delivered his statement from the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, Jordan, where he met with Jordan's King Hussein and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the fallout from the victory of Netanyahu's rightist Likud bloc. The three leaders represent Israel's three main Arab peace partners.

Netanyahu responded quickly. A statement distributed by his office said: "Mr. Netanyahu's position opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is known. The prime minister-elect stresses once again that Israel's position is that Jerusalem will never be divided and will remain united under Israeli sovereignty."

After the May 29 election, Netanyahu's aides had signaled that he might moderate the hard-line stance he had espoused toward the Arabs during his campaign.

The position he stated Wednesday sharply contrasts with that of defeated Prime Minister Shimon Peres' Labor Party, which last month formally dropped its longstanding opposition to the formation of a Palestinian state. Peres has said he preferred a confederation between a Palestinian entity and Jordan in a final peace settlement.

One of the first critical decisions Netanyahu needs to make once in office is whether to carry through on Peres' promise to pull back Israeli troops from Hebron - a town of 450 Jewish settlers and 94,000 Palestinians that is the last West Bank city under Israeli occupation. …

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