Tense maneuvers on Jerusalem Arafat visit: Israel and Palestinians try to determine outcome of negotiation.

March 05, 1997

ISRAEL AND the Palestinian Authority are each trying to change facts before beginning negotiations on the final status of Palestine this month. Each is outraged that the other is doing so.

Israel's decision to begin construction of Har Homa, completing a ring of settlements around East Jerusalem, is a case in point. One purpose is to render impossible the incorporation of the Arab part of Jerusalem into the Palestinian state (be it sovereign or less). Denial of Jewish access to holy places when Jordan ruled East Jerusalem inspires the passion with which most Israelis demand the unity of Jerusalem.

But the eastern quarter, where the Palestinian flag already flies and Israelis do not readily venture, unites the northern and southern West Bank. Here is where the Palestinian Liberation Organization would seek a token capital of whatever Palestinian state emerges.

The PLO tried to prejudice the status negotiations by setting up offices in Arab East Jerusalem beforehand. Mr. Netanyahu is trying to nullify that by ordering Israeli police to close those offices. Members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization are trying to nullify Israel's decision on Har Homa by demonstrations.

Mr. Arafat emphasized in Washington that he is going forward with status negotiations. Mr. Netanyahu's office reaffirmed its commitment to withdrawing from parts of the West Bank on the agreed timetable. Their maneuvers are provoked by the status negotiation, not meant to forestall it.

After Mr. Arafat was received by the president, the U.S. announced it would establish a joint committee with the Palestinian Authority to keep economic, cultural and other relations under review. President Clinton criticized the Israeli decision on Har Homa in the mildest of terms. His reception of Mr. Arafat was a stronger statement.

Mr. Arafat will be in New York today for the U.N. Security Council debate on Har Homa. It will be good if all governments realize that the negotiation for a final accommodation between Israeli and Palestinian aspirations is going forward, and that's what this exercise is about.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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