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Issue of Palestinian Statehood Prompts Threats, Counter-threats

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The issue of Palestinian statehood is generating increasingly heated threats and counter-threats from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday of severe and forceful consequences should Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state on May 4, the end of the interim period under the Oslo accords. Final-status talks, which have barely gotten off the ground, were supposed to tackle the issue of Palestinian statehood by that date.

Netanyahu’s warning came after Arafat told supporters of his Fatah movement last Friday that the Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to fight anyone who tries to prevent the declaration of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Arafat was quoted as saying everyone should know the PLO is ready to wage a “Karameh battle,” referring to the first major battle Palestinian forces fought with the Israeli army in 1968 at Karameh, Jordan.

Arafat says he is entitled to declare a state unilaterally on May 4, although he has come under international pressure to postpone such a move.

But Netanyahu said Sunday that Arafat is making a “grave mistake if he thinks he can gain anything from a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.”

Netanyahu added that Israel would respond to the declaration in a way that would only “cause the Palestinian Authority to lose” more than it would gain.

While Netanyahu did not elaborate on the threat, he has previously stated that Israel might respond to a unilateral declaration of statehood by immediately annexing portions of the West Bank.

On Saturday, Egypt and Jordan said they backed Arafat’s right to declare statehood as long as it is done within the framework of the Oslo accords.

The backing came in a statement issued by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa and his Jordanian counterpart, Abbed el-Aila Hattib, after a meeting in Amman that also included Palestinian officials.

The statement’s reference to the “framework” of the Oslo accords can be interpreted as allowing the declaration to be made as soon as the interim period expires.

In a related development, the Palestinian Authority criticized Israel on Sunday after Israeli officials imposed travel restrictions on three Palestinian officials for hosting a meeting last week of foreign diplomats at the Palestinian Authority’s de facto headquarters in eastern Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that Israel “will respond with full severity” as long as “the Palestinian Authority continues its provocations and violations of the law in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

Privileges were revoked from the Palestinian Authority’s top official in Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini; Palestinian Minister of State Ziad Abu Ziad; and lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi.

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