- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, isolated by the world in his passion to declare Palestine an independent state by Sept. 13, will stay silent tomorrow. For this he should be congratulated. To do otherwise would have brought retaliation from Israel and further political isolation from the international community. But history has an ironic way of replaying itself; the Palestinian council has created a new imaginary deadline, Nov. 15. That is exactly 12 years from the date when the PLO, then in exile in Tunisia, originally declared a Palestinian state.

For their trouble in putting off the declaration for at least another two months, Palestinian negotiators were demanding Israeli concessions yesterday demands they have no grounds to make. Under the Oslo interim agreement, which provides the framework for all current talks, a declaration of statehood could only be made within the context of an agreement with the Israelis an accord which would also settle disputes over the status of Jerusalem, borders and return of refugees. This doesn't keep the Palestinians from thinking they can make such a declaration, though, and demand full sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem for their "patience." The Israelis are willing to concede full functional autonomy rather than complete sovereignty because it was the site of the first and second Jewish temples an offer infuriating to the Palestinians.

It is a wonder that the Clinton administration (which continues to hope for more "peace" meetings, even as early as this week) and the Israeli government even listen to such Palestinian demands. The Palestinians don't need to be reminded that their self-imposed deadlines have long since lost their force. An independent Palestinian state can only exist in reality when Israel agrees to recognize it as such under terms agreeable to them. It's not as if the Palestinians hadn't tested this theory before. Last year's statehood declaration day of choice was May 4, which passed as quietly as did Feb. 15 of this year, when the framework for an agreement on final status issues was to be completed. Instead of threatening declarations of independence for the last 12 years, the PLO could have been conducting a listening tour to find out what that state should actually look like.

It is, after all, not the date that will bring a home to the Palestinians. It is rather the Palestinian's ability to create a solid framework for that home, in cooperation with the Israelis sharing the land which will lend authority to the process. Until they are able to do that, the Palestinian people will remain homeless while the PLO declares independence days without end.

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