Arafat Expresses Doubts About Peace Plan
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Monday he has ``a lot of reservations″ about a revised U.S.-backed peace plan, while visiting Sen. Joseph Lieberman expressed support for Palestinian statehood.
Lieberman, a likely candidate for the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nomination and a leading supporter of Israel, said conditions he encountered in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ commercial center, were ``desperate.″
Also Monday, a top Hamas fugitive, Shaman Sobih, and an accomplice were shot by Israeli troops in what Palestinian security officials said was a targeted killing. The two were riding a tractor when they were ambushed near the West Bank town of Jenin, the officials said. The army declined comment.
Israel’s government, meanwhile, confirmed it has approved plans to build 232 more homes in the Jewish settlement of Emmanuel in the West Bank, and that it will invest $2.6 million in tourism projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The projects were approved even as the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators _ the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia _ pressed ahead with winning Israeli and Palestinian support for a three-phase plan that would culminate with Palestinian statehood by 2005. Among other things, the plan calls for a freeze in Jewish construction in the West Bank and Gaza.
The plan has been circulating for several weeks, and over the weekend, Israel and the Palestinians were given a revised version, which incorporated some of their initial comments. A final plan will be adopted after Israel’s Jan. 28 general election.
Arafat, speaking to reporters Monday at his Ramallah headquarters, said he was studying the new proposals. ``What we have received is not a final draft, and we still have a lot of reservations,″ he said. ``Israel itself did not accept it yet.″
Arafat did not explain what he didn’t like in the revised version. The Palestinians have said they accept the plan in principle.
The ``road map″ to peace calls for internal Palestinian reform, a cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns in the first phase. In 2003, a Palestinian state with provisional borders is to be formed, followed by negotiations on a final peace deal that should lead to full Palestinian statehood by 2005.
Israel said in its initial response that the plan did not create a strong enough link between Palestinian efforts to fight militant groups and progressing to the next stage. Israel also wanted to defer a freeze in settlement construction.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Monday that in the revised version, Israel will not have to withdraw from Palestinian towns until a cease-fire is in place. ``There has to be a real fight against terrorism,″ Gissin said.
Arafat’s Fatah movement is renewing Egyptian-backed efforts to persuade Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group to halt attacks on Israeli civilians. Talks are to resume next week in Cairo, and this time Arafat is sending his deputy in the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, rather than a lower-ranking official as he did last month.
A senior Fatah official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hamas has sent signals that it is ready to halt attacks. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal spoke by phone to Arafat last week, the official said.
Lieberman, the visiting U.S. senator, held talks with Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, but avoided Arafat during his tour of Ramallah.
Lieberman said he came with a message from Congress that it wants to take an active part in bringing peace to the region.
``There’s strong support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people for independent statehood,″ he said. ``The question is whether there will be sufficient leadership here and in the world to bring this about sooner than later.″
Touring Ramallah _ a town that was reoccupied by Israeli troops in June following a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis _ Lieberman was surprised by the damage to the main West Bank commercial hub.
``There are desperate humanitarian conditions here,″ he said.
Abed Rabbo said he explained to Lieberman that the Palestinian Cabinet decided Sunday to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections, initially set for Jan. 20, because it is logistically impossible for people to vote while Israel occupies every major West Bank town and city, except Jericho.