Arafat looks for Arab nations’ support


HERZLIYA, Israel, July 24 (JTA) — When it comes to the future of Jerusalem, Yasser Arafat is not only negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians, but the broader Arab and Muslim worlds.

That is why Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has emerged as a key player outside Camp David. He is apparently on a mission to secure Arab support for any concessions the Palestinian Authority president makes — or at least not oppose President Clinton’s attempts to bridge the gaps on the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Mubarak, who has consulted frequently with Arafat throughout the course of the peace process, this week traveled to Saudi Arabia, presumably to help unify the Arab stance on Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak sees Mubarak as important in the effort to build Arab consensus for whatever Arafat negotiates for Jerusalem.

Last week, as the summit appeared on the verge of collapse, reports said Barak placed an urgent call to Mubarak, as well as to Jordan’s King Abdullah, asking them to exert their influence on Arafat to adopt a more flexible stand.

As Mubarak engages in intensive consultations with other Arab leaders, his ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Basiouny, rejected speculation that Egypt was actually engaged in forming a unified Arab stand against making any concessions on Jerusalem.

“Not at all,” said Basiouny. “Egypt would do nothing to jeopardize the peace efforts.”

Before the Camp David talks began on July 11, Arafat repeatedly stated that he would not abandon his demand that the eastern half of Jerusalem be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

U.S. officials have reportedly put forward a proposal that would grant Israel and the Palestinians some sort of shared sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the capital, a plan that would grant the Palestinians a form of administrative rule in the city.

Barak is reportedly willing to accept the proposal, although with some modifications. If these reports are true, then Barak has gone further than any other Israeli leader in making concessions regarding what has long been regarded as Israel’s “eternal, undivided capital.”

There are reports that Arafat is willing to accept the U.S. proposal, although he has said in the past that he does not have a mandate from the Arab and Muslim world to make concessions regarding the Holy City.

Knesset member Abdel Malek Dahamshe of the Islamist United Arab List gave an indication of the opposition Arafat might confront if he does make concessions.

On Sunday, he published the text of letters he sent to President Clinton, Barak and Arafat in which he warned against any moves that could harm the “sanctity of Jerusalem.”

“More than 1 billion Muslims are willing to sacrifice themselves” to defend Jerusalem’s holy places, he wrote.

If Arafat makes concessions, he added, “the Muslim and Arab world will oppose him, will remove him from power, and the earth will burn.”

The spiritual leader of Hamas, who could quickly turn a sizable portion of the Palestinian street against Arafat, also made it clear that he opposes any concessions to Israel.

As he has done in the past, Sheik Ahmed Yassin this week offered Israel a cease-fire in exchange for its withdrawal from all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. By the standards of Hamas, which usually leaves no room for compromise with Israel in its rhetoric, the statement was considered moderate.

Yassin urged the Palestinian negotiators at Camp David to leave if Israel refuses these terms, saying no agreement could exclude any part of these lands.

Weighing in on an issue that is also being debated at Camp David, Yassin also issued a religious edict prohibiting Palestinian refugees from ceding their right to return in exchange for compensation from Israel.

This week, Moroccan officials provided a clear idea of how closely they are watching Camp David.

The Knesset had to postpone a memorial ceremony for Morocco’s late King Hassan of Morocco that was scheduled for Monday after the Moroccan delegation — including the king’s longtime Jewish adviser, Andre Azoulay — announced it would not show up.

The present Moroccan king, Mohammad VI, felt it was inappropriate to hold such a ceremony in the Knesset — in the heart of Jewish Jerusalem — just when the fate of the city was being discussed at Camp David.

Some Arab officials, however, were not cutting off their contacts with Israel.

While Mubarak was engaged in his behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts, Egyptian officials hosted an annual event in Israel.

On Sunday, the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv held a reception marking the 48th anniversary of the Free Officers Revolution in Egypt. On July 23, 1952, a group of young Egyptian officers toppled the monarchy of King Farouk and created the Arab Republic of Egypt.

One of those officers was Anwar Sadat, who 27 years later became the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel.

Some 3,000 Israelis of all walks of life were invited to the reception at the Herzliya Country Club, the 20th such reception since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

The guest list included Mohammad Bakri, one of Israel’s leading actors. Like everyone there, he had an opinion about the Camp David talks.

“Peace? What peace? This is no peace,” he said.

Bakri, who was born in a Galilee village in the early days of the Jewish state, is a sharp critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Like many Palestinian radicals in the West Bank and Gaza, he believes that Israel has offered the Palestinians nothing but surrender.

Significantly, very few Palestinian political activists were seen among the guests.

At this sensitive stage of the Camp David negotiations, they preferred not to be seen schmoozing with Israel’s high society.

Instead, just as the reception in Herzliya was taking place, they gathered for an emergency session in Ramallah, where they shared their opposition to any Palestinian concessions at Camp David.

Among the guests at the Herzliya reception was Abdel Wahab Darawshe, a former Knesset member from the Arab Democratic Party.

He, too, commented on the subject that was on everybody’s mind.

“Arafat has already made a major concession,” he said. “He gave up on the right of return of 4 million Palestinian refugees. Now it is Barak’s turn.”

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