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Arafat: Peace process must 'carry on,' despite housing dispute

Arafat March 4, 1997
Web posted at: 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Tuesday he has "no other alternative" but to press peace negotiations with Israel despite its decision to build new Jewish housing in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.

"It is our duty and our job and our target to carry on with the peace process," Arafat said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

"We have no other alternative. And in spite of all the difficulties we are facing, we have one alternative: to carry on with the peace process. This is our strategic target."

Arafat said Israel's decision to go ahead with the 6,500-apartment housing project in the East Jerusalem area of Jabal Abu Ghneim, known by Israelis as Har Homa, violates a previously negotiated peace agreement.

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President Clinton, in a meeting Monday with Arafat, also criticized Israel's decision, saying it "builds mistrust" between Israelis and the Palestinians.

The U.N. Security Council was to meet Tuesday to discuss the project, and European diplomats were expected to ask Israel to avoid actions that could change the status of Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim the eastern sector of Jerusalem as a future capital and fear Har Homa would cut off Arab sections of Jerusalem from the West Bank.

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PLO leader says Israel makes peace 'difficult'

"What has been declared recently by the Israeli government has made very difficult circumstances for the peace process," said Arafat, who made some of his comments in Arabic but also waived aside an interpreter and spoke in halting English.

"It is a real challenge for the peace process. No one can imagine the damage for the peace process for that (housing) decision."

"It will isolate Jerusalem more and more and more and more and ... separate between Jerusalem and Bethlehem."

Nevertheless, Arafat also said he considers Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his peace "partner" just as previous Israeli leaders were.

U.S., Palestinians to form joint committee

Arafat is in the United States for a series of meetings at the White House and the State Department.

Following the talks, the Clinton administration plans to announce the formation of a U.S.-Palestinian committee to regularize contacts on trade, commerce, technology and cultural affairs, a senior administration official told CNN.


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