June 25, 2000.
Nablus, West Bank — Palestinian state will be declared “in a few weeks”, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in a speech Sunday in the West Bank town of Nablus.
“The Palestinian state will be proclaimed in a few weeks”, he told thousands of supporters of his Fatah faction, the main component of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
“The coming weeks will be crucial,” he added in a speech at a local school.
Arafat has said several times that he will declare a Palestinian state before the end of the year, with or without a final peace deal with Israel, but without giving even an approximate date.
A final accord, covering such issues as the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the future of 3.5 million Palestinian refugees and the question of Jewish settlements, is scheduled to be reached by September 13.
But major differences remain between the two sides less than three months ahead of that deadline.
The US is trying to organise a summit between Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton to move the negotiations forward.
“No force is capable of threatening us,” said Arafat, referring to a boosting of the Israeli military presence in the occupied areas.
He said the Palestinians are capable of resisting as they did in the “battles of al-Karama (which saw Palestinian fighters and the Jordanian army clash with the Israeli army in 1968) of Beirut (1982) or the seven years of the intifada,” the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule.
“We are for peace, but a just and overall peace,” Arafat told the crowd, saying that the Palestinians could count on their “friends and allies in southern Lebanon, in Egypt, in Jordan and in Syria.”
Arafat’s comments drew quick criticism from Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy.
“A peace process can’t exist with threats,” he told reporters in Jerusalem.
“If he chooses to go (declare statehood) … in a unilateral way, then he directly allows Israel to choose the same method.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Barak accused Palestinians of deliberately placing obstacles in the path of a Camp David-style summit.
Barak conferred with his Cabinet in Jerusalem about the upcoming visit of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is expected to arrive Tuesday evening.
In advance of her visit, the third to the region in a month, U.S. envoy Dennis Ross has been meeting with both sides to try to determine whether a summit should be held under U.S. auspices. Israel badly wants a summit, but the Palestinians say the two sides are too far apart for it to be productive now.
Ross met Sunday with Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian parliament and a senior negotiator, at his home in Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem. Another Palestinian negotiator and cabinet minister, Hassan Asfour, said Sunday that none of the issues in the final status negotiations have been settled. “Not one word of the agreement has been put on paper,” he said.