Fri, 18 Aug 2000

PLO to reassess planned statehood declaration: Arafat

JAKARTA (JP): Visiting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said on Wednesday the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) would "reassess" its plan to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state on Sept. 13.

Arafat said the decision on whether to declare Palestinian independence would be taken at "the beginning of next month" by the Palestinian Central Council.

"We have decided before (that the declaration would be made on Sept. 13), but we have to reassess this," Arafat told a media conference after meeting President Abdurrahman Wahid at Merdeka Palace.

Sept. 13 is the target date the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders had set for a final peace.

Arafat, who is on a world tour to drum up support for his position, also said that peace talks could resume after this week's Democratic Party convention in the United States.

Arafat said he had received a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton assuring him he would push ahead to help with the peace negotiations after the convention.

During a summit at Camp David last month, Israel and the Palestinians were unable to resolve difficult sticking points that would enable the peace agreement to be finalized and end their 52-year-old conflict.

The U.S.-sponsored talks collapsed over the future status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

The Palestinians insist that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future Palestinian state, while Israel refuses any division of the city. East Jerusalem contains Islam's third holiest site and Judaism's most sacred shrine.

After meeting Israeli envoy Shimon Peres on Monday, Abdurrahman suggested that Israel have administrative control over the city, but political sovereignty be in the hands of six neighboring countries -- including Israel and a Palestinian state -- and the United Nations.

Arafat, who arrived at Halim Perdanakusuma Airport on Wednesday evening, made no reference to the suggestion, but thanked Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, for his support.

"I have to thank him because he has expressed his support that the peace talks should continue," Arafat said.

Arafat had initially been scheduled to arrive late on Tuesday evening and hold a breakfast meeting with Abdurrahman on Wednesday morning.

However, he had to delay his arrival here from Kuala Lumpur after the pilot of his plane discovered an engine malfunction.

Palace officials said that Arafat was due to fly from here to Japan early Thursday.

Arafat's statement came as Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Mohammed Bassiouni said on Wednesday that Egypt is in contact with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to prepare a "blueprint" Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to be discussed at a possible new summit.

Bassiouni was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying that contacts were underway "to prepare a blueprint framework accord between the two sides which could help towards the success of any summit".

The news agency also said that the U.S. had sent envoy Dennis Ross to the Middle East on Wednesday to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials.

"He will have meetings with both Palestinians and Israelis, possibly with the leaders," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker was quoted as saying, adding that Ross would then remain in the region on vacation. (byg)