Palestinians threaten to declare independence

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

Encouraged by this week's contested declaration of independence by Kosovo, a senior Palestinian official on Wednesday warned that if Israel does not more quickly make the concessions necessary for a bilateral peace deal they will pull the same stunt, regardless of how regional power-brokers would feel about it.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview with Reuters that if Israel fails to engage in intense non-stop negotiations leading to the birth of a Palestinian Arab state by the end of this year, the Palestinian Authority must seriously consider taking the step on its own.

Yasser Arafat similarly threatened to unilaterally declare Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip an independent Arab state as peace talks began to falter in 1999, but was ultimately convinced against doing so by the US, Europe and other world powers. Arafat repeated the threat several more times before his death, though it was never again taken so seriously.

Top Palestinian negotiators Ahmed Qureia and Saeb Erekat later rejected Mr. Rabbo's suggestion, noting that the PLO had already declared independence in 1988, and that further unilateral declarations would not accomplish the current goal of removing all Jews from the territories claimed by the terror group-turned-sovereign entity.

Talk of a Palestinian declaration of independence resurfaced following Tuesday's reportedly uneventful meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

US President George W. Bush firmly urged the two leaders to meet regularly and with determination to ensure the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state by the end of his second term. But little progress has been made since then, with Israel refusing to get too deeply involved in making promises and concessions until the Palestinians stop perpetrating terrorist attacks on Israel.

Nevertheless, Mr. Erekat said the explosive topic of future control of Jerusalem was on the agenda Tuesday, rebuffing Israeli claims to the contrary.

The long-time Palestinian negotiator said Jerusalem has been discussed at every meeting since Mr. Bush's visit in January, despite Mr. Olmert's ongoing assertion that he and his government have postponed talks regarding the holy city until the final stages of the peace process are reached.

Jerusalem municipal opposition leader Nir Barkat told Ynet that, according to senior government sources he is in contact with, Mr. Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have already secretly ceded the half of Jerusalem previously occupied by Jordan to the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, early US Republican presidential candidate Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) said on Tuesday that the entire idea of solving the Middle East conflict by establishing an independent Palestinian Arab state should be scrapped.

Speaking at the annual Jerusalem Conference in the Israeli capital, Mr. Brownback rhetorically asked, "After 15 years, billions of dollars in aid, massive international attention and unlimited diplomatic support, what do the Palestinians have to show for it?"

The senator said the current path to peace would never work because the Palestinian Authority is incapable of effectively administering itself.

As an alternative, Mr. Brownback urged world leaders to consider the idea of a confederation between the Palestinian Arabs and Jordan that left Judea and Samaria under overall Israeli sovereignty.

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