- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

From combined dispatches

Palestinian officials Thursday raised questions about their determination to declare statehood on Sept. 13, saying a final decision on the date would be made at a meeting early next month.
The decision to hold the meeting follows a tour of European and Arab capitals in which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been advised to postpone such a declaration, said Selim Zanoun, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's mini-parliament, the Palestinian Central Council (PCC).
"They asked [Mr. Arafat] to give negotiations [with Israel] another chance in order not to get to a situation which Israel would resist," Mr. Zanoun said.
Mr. Arafat has given conflicting signals on whether he will proclaim statehood on Sept. 13, even without Israel's blessing, or delay such a move if a peace agreement has not been reached by then.
"Never, never. There is no retreat on the fixed timetable of the declaration of the state," Mr. Arafat told the dailies Okaz and Saudi Gazette earlier this month.
"It will be declared at the fixed time, which is Sept. 13, God willing, regardless of those who agree or disagree."
But on one occasion, Mr. Arafat left room for doubt by saying "unless Arab leaders saw otherwise."
Mr. Zanoun said leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries told Mr. Arafat they would recognize a Palestinian state regardless of when it was declared.
He said the PCC would meet in early September to discuss how and when a Palestinian state would be established.
The PCC decided in July to declare a state by Sept. 13, the deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.
Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak failed to forge a peace deal at last month's U.S.-sponsored Camp David peace summit.
Mr. Zanoun said it was unlikely the PCC would agree to postpone the establishment of a state as most Palestinians wanted a declaration by the mid-September deadline.
"In a recent meeting of the PLO's executive committee there was a recommendation to stick to the September 13 deadline," Mr. Zanoun told a news conference in Gaza.
Some Palestinian officials have said the date for a statehood declaration is "flexible" and could be moved to Nov. 15, which marks the anniversary of the PLO's declaration of independence in Algeria in 1988.
Mr. Zanoun said that Mr. Arafat planned to brief the PLO executive committee on Arab and European reactions to his statehood plans after he completes his tour.
Mr. Arafat was visiting Iran and Russia Thursday to lobby for their support.
The Israelis, meanwhile, are also seeking to bolster international support for their position. Shlomo Ben-Ami, whom Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak appointed acting foreign minister yesterday, was in Turkey for meetings with Foreign Minister Ismail Cem and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.
Mr. Zanoun said that if there were reasons to postpone the declaration of a state, "then Arafat and the PLO executive committee would have to seek the approval of the PCC members."
He said that changing the statehood deadline from Sept. 13 to any other date would require the approval of two-thirds of the PCC's 129 members.
Mr. Zanoun said that he was trying to convince the militant Islamic group Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to attend the PCC meeting. They are not part of the PCC and both boycotted its meeting in July.
The groups oppose Israeli-Palestinian peace deals and have carried out a spate of bomb attacks against Israeli targets that killed scores of people.
Mr. Zanoun said it was vital for the Palestinians to declare a state before the U.S. elections in November.
"The new [U.S.] president will ask for time to get settled … then time will be wasted more and more until we find ourselves living in an eternal autonomy," he said.
Israel has warned that it could take its own unilateral steps, like annexing parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip still under its control, if Mr. Arafat goes through with his threat to unilaterally declare a state.

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