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Arafat arrives in Washington

Tensions rising between Israel and the Palestinians

March 2, 1997
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Anthony Collings

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The threat of renewed Palestinian-Israeli violence was the main topic on the agenda as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat arrived in the United States Sunday at the invitation of the White House.

Arafat was to meet Monday with President Clinton and State Department officials. At home, the Palestinian legislature called for a general strike Monday to protest Israeli plans for a Jewish housing project in East Jerusalem.

Arafat was meeting Sunday night with World Bank President James Wolfensohn and addressing a dinner meeting of the Palestinian-American Congress. Arafat meets with congressional leaders Tuesday.


"The moment the bulldozers get on the ground, then it is very clear that the Palestinians, the Palestinian people as a whole, will feel called upon to protect their own land," Palestinian Cabinet Minister Hanan Ashrawi said on CNN's "Late Edition." She denied that meant an armed response.

Arafat is trying to bring international pressure to bear on Israel to abandon the housing project. He met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo before coming to Washington.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Washington last month, is scheduled to see Mubarak in Cairo later this week.

The United States is also pressuring Israel to reconsider the housing project.

"Clearly, there are aspects of this recent decision that tend not to be helpful in building confidence," White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told reporters Friday.

But with Palestinian anger building up, President Clinton is also expected to caution Arafat.

"What will happen is that President Clinton will lay down the law to Chairman Arafat that there should be no violence in response to this project," said Alan Makovsky of the Washington Institute Near East Policy.

U.S. officials don't want a repeat of the violence that took more than 70 lives last year. That violence came after a general strike by Palestinians protesting an Israeli tunnel.

Netanyahu visited Washington last month. Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein, both of whom are called on to help smooth the diplomatic process, are to come later this month.

Middle East experts say a lot is at stake. If there's a repeat of last year's Palestinian-Israeli violence, the U.S.-sponsored peace process could be shut down for some time.


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