Palestinians forgo statehood declaration

Tuesday was target date

Arafat urges patience


JERUSALEM -- Palestinian leaders decided yesterday against declaring statehood Tuesday, retreating from a pledge that the Israelis saw as a threat and defusing a potentially volatile situation.

At the urging of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, the Palestinian Central Council ended a three-day meeting in Gaza City by postponing the idea of pronouncing the West Bank and Gaza Strip a Palestinian state.

Under the terms of the Oslo peace accord, Tuesday was the target date for completing final peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the negotiations have barely begun.

The discussion about the fate of the proposed Palestinian state will resume in June, after the Israeli elections May 17 and the runoff vote that is expected to be held June 1.

If the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected and the peace effort remains frozen, the Palestinians can reconsider making a unilateral declaration of statehood, some said.

"We decided to give ourselves an open-ended session because we don't want to let any decision serve Netanyahu and the Israeli groups that are fighting peace," Abdallah Frangi, a council member and Palestine Liberation Organization representative to Germany, said in Gaza.

Some Palestinian leaders would prefer to abandon a U.S.-brokered peace effort that would have their sovereignty or statehood determined through negotiations with Israel. But after Washington promised this week to help him push for a final negotiated deal within a year, Arafat urged the Palestinian leadership to be patient.

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