- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

U.S. lawmakers warned yesterday that a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood could jeopardize $100 million in U.S. aid, even as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat received a rapturous welcome home a day after the Camp David Mideast summit collapsed.
A crowd of about 5,000 supporters in Gaza City lifted a garland-wearing Mr. Arafat on their shoulders, chanting slogans proclaiming that the Palestinians would never surrender their claim to sovereignty over East Jerusalem the issue that caused the Camp David talks to fall apart without a deal.
As U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials pondered their next moves in the negotiations, the strong support on the West Bank and in Arab capitals for Mr. Arafat's stand on Jerusalem signaled that finding a compromise in the weeks ahead may prove very difficult.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, by contrast, arrived home to a much smaller and more muted gathering of friends and close political allies.
The Israeli prime minister was also greeted by new public opinion polls showing a majority of his countrymen disapproved of his handling of the Camp David talks and of the compromises he was reportedly ready to make to strike a deal.
"I have to say in anguish that we have not yet succeeded," Mr. Barak said, "because we did not find a partner who was prepared for the hard decisions on all topics."
The negotiators face a Sept. 13 deadline, when Mr. Arafat has repeatedly said he is prepared to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza land under his control a move that all sides fear could spark a new round of violent confrontations in the region.
On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced bills to terminate aid to the Palestinian Authority or any successor government if Mr. Arafat carries out his threat.
The U.S. government pledged to assist both Israel and Mr. Arafat's government in the wake of the 1993 Oslo accords, which set in motion the peace process culminating in this month's 15-day summit.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and a sponsor of the House bill, said the measure "sends a clear message to Chairman Arafat that [he] must not provoke a new cycle of violence or war in the Middle East."
Added Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill: "If the Palestinian authorities act unilaterally, then we will have no choice but to act in kind by cutting off all foreign aid."
The House and Senate legislation would forbid the creation of a U.S. embassy to establish relations with a Palestinian state, effectively preventing formal recognition of Mr. Arafat's state.
The bill also urges the president to block a Palestinian state from securing membership in the United Nations.
Rep. Rick Lazio, New York Republican, said a declaration of statehood by Mr. Arafat would be a "dagger in the heart of peace" by an "international pariah."
Signaling that the Middle East standoff could become a campaign issue, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is challenging Mr. Lazio for a New York Senate seat this fall, also came out in support of the aid cutoff idea.
But in the Middle East, Mr. Arafat was greeted by cheering crowds in both Egypt, where he stopped to brief President Hosni Mubarak, and on the West Bank. There were also pro-Arafat demonstrations in West Bank cities such as Ramallah and Bethlehem, and by Palestinians in Lebanon's largest refugee camp.
Mr. Mubarak stressed the importance of a "unified Arab stance" in support of the Palestinian cause. Editorial opinion in leading Arab newspapers was almost uniformly favorable to Mr. Arafat over Jerusalem, something that one leading U.S. analyst said was a bad omen for the peace process.
"Reports of a hero's welcome for Arafat are not exactly reassuring," said Richard N. Haass, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution and a former Middle East specialist in the Bush administration.
"It shows that the politics in the Palestinian-controlled areas and in much of the Arab world is still rewarding uncompromising stands on principle as opposed to compromise and vision," Mr. Haass said.
The Arab reaction was in sharp contrast to the Clinton administration, which has played up Mr. Arafat's refusal to match Israeli concessions on Jerusalem as a stumbling block to a Camp David deal.
"I would say the Israelis were more willing to be creative and flexible," Samuel R. Berger, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, said on CNN yesterday.
"The Palestinians, with respect particularly to the issue of Jerusalem, were not as prepared to compromise and to let go of some of their traditional positions," Mr. Berger said.
Mr. Clinton was more restrained, saying he believed differences on Jerusalem and the other "core issues" dividing the two camps can still be bridged, "but we couldn't do it in the 15 days we were there" at Camp David.
U.S. officials said that Dennis Ross, the State Department's Middle East point man, would travel to the region within the next few weeks if it looks as if new progress can be made.
Mr. Arafat, who plans his own tour of Arab capitals in the next few days, sent mixed messages in his bid to consolidate support in the Arab world without angering the United States and killing all hopes for a deal with Mr. Barak.
"Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state, like it or not," Mr. Arafat told the Gaza City crowds yesterday. "Whoever does not like it, let him go drink from the Sea of Gaza."
But Mr. Arafat and leading Palestinian spokesmen sounded more upbeat than their Israeli counterparts that a deal could still be struck in the next seven weeks.
"We did not reach any agreement, but views have come close," Mr. Arafat said in Egypt.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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