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Arafat says he accepts Camp David plan

By SAUD ABU RAMADAN   |   May 14, 2002 at 5:35 PM   |   Comments

GAZA, May 14 (UPI) -- Comments from Yasser Arafat Tuesday suggested the Palestinian Authority leader might revisit a peace plan proposed at the Camp David talks U.S. President Bill Clinton arranged two years ago.

Arafat said it was the Israelis -- not the Palestinians -- who ultimately rejected the deal at the time, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

The comments, confirmed by official Palestinian Authority sources for United Press International, came after a meeting with Israeli peace activists who have had children killed in the ongoing conflict.

According to Yitzhak Frankenthal, leader of the attending Oz ve-Shalom, an Israeli religious group for peace, Arafat said, "It was not a problem to sign the Clinton framework suggestion, only if we could get sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif -- Temple Mount." Haram al Sharif and Temple Mount are the Israeli and Arab names for the Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, which Jews also revere.

The plan proposed at Camp David called for more than 95 percent of former Palestinian territories to be returned to Palestinian control and deferred some of the region's sticky issues, such as the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return home. However, the fate of Jerusalem, with its significance for both the Jewish and Muslim religions, remained unresolved between the two Middle East leaders.

Other issues at the time included borders, water rights -- and Jewish settlers.

The Israeli human rights monitoring group B'Tselem said Monday said built-up Israeli settlement areas in the West Bank cover less than 2 percent of the land, but government planners have intentionally given settlers control of more than 40 percent.

Moreover, the settlement layout prevents the possibility of creating a territorial continuum between Palestinian towns and cities, reducing the economic and agricultural development potential of Palestinians, B'Tselem Chairman Anat Biletzki told a news conference Sunday.

Between 1993 and 2000 the number of settlers in the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem almost doubled, B'Tselem said.

Israel has used various legal and bureaucratic mechanisms to assume control of over half the West Bank lands, most of which was used "to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements," the report said. In the year 2000, the government's average grants to Jewish local councils in the West Bank were 65 percent higher than those given to their counterparts inside Israel.

Issues such as these dominated the talks at the time.

Tuesday the reference to the Clinton peace plan -- tabled since Arafat and then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak left Camp David in July 2000 without agreement -- came at a time when Palestinian critics of Arafat appear to be gaining momentum.

Citing security concerns, Palestinian security forces Monday scrapped what would have been Arafat's first visit to the Jenin refugee camp since last month's fierce fighting with Israeli forces.

And Palestinian lawmaker Hatem Abdel Qader said Tuesday that Arafat's Fatah Party is preparing a plan to limit their leader's power.

In an interview with the London-based Arab international daily Al Hayat, East Jerusalem resident Abdel Qader, who sits on the Jerusalem and Refugees Affairs committees, said Fatah is completing a document setting guidelines for internal reforms within the Palestinian Authority and Fatah.

"A meeting with Arafat to discuss the document is expected to take place in the near future," he said. Implementation of the document would mean that "(Arafat) will have to surrender some of his authority," Qader said.

Qader stressed it would be vital Arafat remain a key part of the Palestinian Authority, adding that Arafat is essential as a leader, commander and political symbol.

Dennis Ross -- special envoy to the Middle East during the Clinton administration, who is in the region -- told Israeli television Tuesday he has heard talk of reform among the Palestinians.

"It's across the board, its from every walk of life; there is a recognition that something fundamental has to change in the Palestinian side," Ross said. "That's a starting point for what may be a sign of hope."

Arafat also met Tuesday with Egyptian Intelligence Security Chief Omer Soliman at his Ramallah headquarters, Palestinian radio reported. Soliman briefed Arafat on the results of the small Arab summit held at the Egyptian resort of Sharm Al-Sheikh, which was attended by the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, the radio reported.

The Palestinian news agency Wafa said Soliman, who flew from Jordan to Ramallah using a Jordanian helicopter, gave Arafat a letter from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top Arafat aide, said the letter included Egyptian ideas on reinforcing Arab-Palestinian relation and ways to help the Palestinians enact reforms to prepare for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, an idea rejected this week by Sharon's own Likud Party.

(With reporting by Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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