- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

JENIN, West Bank Yasser Arafat is considering a new approach to negotiations with Israel one in which he would seek to establish a Palestinian state first and leave other divisive issues such as the status of refugees for future talks.

Kadoura Mousa Kadoura, director-general of Mr. Arafat's northern West Bank office and a member of the Palestinian National Assembly, outlined the new approach during a recent visit to Jenin.

"Let Israel withdraw, and we shall establish a state on our territory, and then we negotiate over the status of the refugees," Mr. Kadoura said.

The approach differs from the Palestinian position at failed Camp David talks nearly two years ago, when Mr. Arafat demanded an all-or-nothing resolution of outstanding issues such as the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

When the agreement fell short of Mr. Arafat's demands, he rejected it, setting the stage for the present Palestinian uprising that began shortly afterward.

Speaking alongside portraits of Mr. Arafat and of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in his Jenin headquarters, Mr. Kadoura said the new approach had been endorsed by the Palestinian leader, who has "talked very clearly" about the strategy.

The thinking is that the Palestinians would be in a stronger position as a nation to press its demands for the return of more than 3 million Palestinian refugees to Israel, Mr. Kadoura said.

His remarks hinted at a broad shift in the Palestinian approach to an international peace conference sought by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell this summer.

Continued Palestinian suicide attacks and the threat of massive Israeli retaliation have since cast doubts on whether the peace conference would be held as planned.

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Sunday gave his backing to a Palestinian state on land now controlled by Mr. Arafat's Palestinian authority a proposal that in some ways resembles the one laid out by Mr. Kadoura.

In a radio interview shortly before a suicide bomber struck the Israeli city of Netanya, killing three Israelis, Mr. Peres said he would first streamline Palestinian security forces and then establish a state.

The Palestinian Authority currently controls about two-thirds of the Gaza Strip and 40 percent of the West Bank, both of which are areas that have been ceded by Israel to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Peace accords.

Mr. Peres, a leading dove, said that he is trying to get Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the international community to support the proposal.

No senior Israeli or Palestinian official has publicly endorsed the plan, however, and many consider the idea a non-starter.

Under the new negotiating position, the Palestinian leadership would continue to seek all or most of the land lost to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The major difference is that the Palestinians would not press their most highly charged demand that more than 3 million Palestinian refugees or their descendants be allowed back inside Israel to their land and houses, vacated in the 1948 war that gave birth to the Jewish state.

In a speech to the Palestinian assembly earlier this month, Mr. Arafat hinted at a shift in strategy by saying that Palestinians could achieve their "rights" in stages.

He described the arrangements he was pursuing with Israel as similar to the Hudaybiyyah Agreement a 10-year truce made between the Prophet Muhammad and the tribe of Qureish. Two years later, when Muhammad had improved his military position, he tore up the agreement.

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