Palestinian council delays decision on statehood
April 28, 1999
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian leaders have chosen to delay a final decision on declaring statehood until after Israeli elections next month, a key Palestinian official told CNN on Wednesday.
The Palestinian Central Council, meeting in Gaza to discuss whether to unilaterally declare independence, is considering a draft proposal to put off a decision until after the May 17 poll, said Nabil Sha'ath, a Palestinian cabinet minister and close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Palestinian sources said there is broad consensus in the council for the postponement proposal.
Arafat had pledged to declare statehood on May 4, when the Oslo peace accords with Israel expire. But in remarks before the council on Tuesday, Arafat backed away from his promise, suggesting the time was not right to make the unilateral move. He signaled his support for extending peace talks with Israel for another year.
"We are going through a very delicate period in the history of our people, a period during which we cannot afford making any mistakes," Arafat said, as quoted by the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.
"We don't need to affirm our state because we are actually exercising statehood," he said.
Arafat has come under increased pressure from the United States, Europe and Arab states to delay declaring statehood, a move that could boost support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his tough stance on Palestinian issues.
Netanyahu, who is in a neck-and-neck election campaign, claimed the Palestinian retreat was a result of his threat to annex areas of the West Bank and Gaza if the Palestinians pushed for independence.
"Today (Arafat) backed down. He backed down because he knows we won't give him what he wants, he knows that as long as I'm prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established," Netanyahu said.
Israeli voter surveys show Netanyahu in a close race with the more dovish Ehud Barak, his main challenger. Barak's Labor Party forged the initial Oslo accords with Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Arafat signals a delay in declaring Palestinian statehood
Palestinian National Authority Official Website
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