- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

From combined dispatches
JERUSALEM Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said yesterday he now accepts the peace plan put forward 18 months ago by President Clinton, a generous deal compared with the initiative President Bush is expected to announce soon.
Word of Mr. Arafat's change of mind in an interview with Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper came amid continuing violence at the end of a week of suicide attacks and reprisals that led Mr. Bush to delay his announcement.
Israeli tanks yesterday fired on an open-air market in the West Bank city of Jenin, killing three Palestinians. Hours earlier, a Palestinian gunman killed five Israelis in a West Bank Jewish settlement. The settlers retaliated by opening fire in a nearby town, killing one Palestinian.
Two suicide bombings during the week killed 26 Israelis, prompting the Israeli Security Cabinet to formally approve a plan yesterday to reoccupy parts of Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank until the attacks cease.
In an interview at his Ramallah headquarters, Mr. Arafat told Ha'aretz reporter Akiva Eldar that he would take the Clinton plan without changes, Mr. Eldar told the Associated Press.
"I am prepared to accept it, absolutely," Mr. Eldar quoted Mr. Arafat as saying, and he endorsed the points of the plan one by one, the reporter said.
Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mr. Clinton presented the plan in December 2000 after a summit meeting during the summer at Camp David, Md., between Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak broke down without an agreement.
According to the plan, the Palestinians would set up a state in 95 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip and would gain sovereignty over Arab quarters in Jerusalem and a hotly disputed holy site.
The plan also called on the Palestinians to drastically scale back their demand for all refugees and their descendants from the 1948-49 war that followed Israel's creation, at least 3.5 million people, to have the right to return to their original homes inside Israel.
After Mr. Clinton presented his plan, the Palestinians said they accepted it with "deep reservations," asking for clarifications about all the key points.
Talk of the initiative faded as fighting between Israel and the Palestinians escalated, and Mr. Bush, who took office in January 2001, said he regarded the plan as having expired.
Now Mr. Arafat is willing to sign on to the Clinton plan, Mr. Eldar wrote in yesterday's editions of Ha'aretz, calling it the first time the Palestinian leader has endorsed it.
Mr. Arafat said Israel would receive sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, the last remaining remnant of the compound of the Jewish temples, Judaism's holiest site.
Also, Mr. Arafat said he would be prepared for modifications in the line between Israel and the West Bank and exchanges of territory with Israel, principles the Palestinians have balked at until now.
The official Palestinian demand has been that Israel must pull back to the 1949 cease-fire line, relinquishing all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and dismantling all Jewish settlements there.
Mr. Arafat did not repeat the demand for the right of return of all the refugees and their families to Israel, Mr. Eldar said. Instead, he said, a solution must be found for the 200,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, adding that he was calling on European and other world bodies to help.
Israel has refused to take in large numbers of refugees. Lebanon says there are 350,000 refugees there.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is prepared to offer much less than his predecessor. The Israeli leader insists that all violence must stop before peace talks resume, and then he would propose a long-term interim agreement, during which the Palestinians would maintain control over the areas they now have.
Mr. Bush is scripting a Middle East peace proposal of his own, which is expected to propose an interim Palestinian state in most of Gaza and on the 40 percent of the West Bank now controlled by Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
But the process continued to be delayed yesterday by debate within the administration about what the Palestinians must do before an interim state is declared and what rights they would have within it, a U.S. official told Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on the Air Force One flight carrying Mr. Bush on a day trip to Orlando, Fla., not to expect anything during the weekend.
Mr. Bush himself gave no hint of when he would outline U.S. policy, saying, "I'll give the speech when I'm ready."
In yesterday's fighting, Israeli troops in Jenin fired on a fruit-and-vegetable market, killing three Palestinians, including two children, who mistakenly thought a curfew had been lifted, witnesses said.
Hospital officials said a 6-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a senior city education official aged around 50 were killed after residents emerged from their homes to stock up on supplies. Twenty-six persons also were injured, they said.
In other violence, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian militant in the Gaza Strip who attacked them with grenades at a border crossing. Two other Palestinians at the crossing also were killed.
Israeli troops shot dead an 8-year-old Palestinian boy in Gaza in a raid after an Israeli was seriously wounded by gunmen. And an 11-year-old Palestinian boy died in a hospital of wounds suffered in the Israeli thrust into Jenin, according to Palestinian medics.


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