- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's listening tour through capitals of the Arab countries has not gotten him all he hoped for. Instead of backing his plan to declare a Palestinian state on Sept. 13, regional leaders discouraged him from making the unilateral move. The Arab countries' welcome stance in this area, and especially that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has come at a crucial time in the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's legitimacy is at stake, and the Clinton administration has called for a new summit meeting by the end of September. Keeping Mr. Arafat from making a declaration of statehood next month will give all sides more breathing room.

Though the tour did not bring a new Arab platform to the negotiating table, Mr. Arafat's allies remained committed to Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, while encouraging him to refrain from making any move that would change the status of the current boundaries. Mr. Mubarak, a key Palestinian ally and negotiator in the process, said over the weekend that a delay in a declaration of statehood might take place, and he is working with Mr. Arafat toward that end. He should further use his power to make the Palestinians aware of the security and political challenges all parties would face if the Palestinians receive the territory in Jerusalem, the Golan and the West Bank that they are requesting.

In a letter to Americans for a Safe Israel, Sen. Jesse Helms, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, reflected the negative consequences for all involved if the territory bargaining is made under threat of a unilateral declaration or pressure from the U.S. administration:

"[Mr. Arafat] is convinced he can win in peace negotiations what he did not win in war all the West Bank and Jerusalem. There will be no peace until the Palestinian leadership recognizes that Israel will not be defeated around a negotiating table. In addition, it will be vital for the American people to be kept fully informed of any commitments made by this Administration to finance a peace agreement. Although no firm numbers have been discussed, the ballpark figures being mentioned are staggering upwards of $100 billion. Any agreement that requires substantial U.S. funds will undergo serious scrutiny by the Congress. Finally, neither I, nor the majority of my colleagues in the U.S. Congress, will be prepared to provide the Palestinian Authority with U.S. aid if the Palestinian leadership goes forward with a unilateral declaration of statehood."

Stripped of support from the United States, their Arab allies and most of the international community (minus China), the Palestinians will likely receive nothing but violence in return for their statehood proclamation should they make it next month. The administration must remain unified with Congress in its determination to protect the security and sovereignty of Israel by not bending to Mr. Arafat's manipulative tactics to procure aid, or make unilateral changes outside of negotiations.

Egypt and its Arab allies must help the Palestinians understand that a safe Israel paves the way for a secure Middle East. Mr. Arafat will not find peace by declaring the place where he lives to be a state. He will find it when he tires of his own threats long enough to begin making the place he considers home safer for everyone who lives there.

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