Palestinian negotiators seek delay on

GAZA, Reuters

They said senior negotiators painted a grim picture of the state peace talks in speeches to the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) at the start of a closed two-day-long debate in Gaza on whether to accede to international pressure and delay the declaration.

But the officials quoted the negotiators as saying they would like to allow more time for an agreement to be reached with Israel to end 52 years of conflict.

“Members of the Palestinian negotiating team spoke,” PCC member Marwan Barghouthi told Reuters after the Council ended its first session.

“Abu Mazen (senior negotiator Mahmoud Abbas) gave a speech on the talks on behalf of the PLO’s Executive Committee, and all speakers asked for delaying the declaration of the state until the end of this year,” he said.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has said he could declare statehood as early as September 13, the deadline for clinching a peace treaty with Israel. But some foreign states have urged him to postpone the declaration until a peace deal is reached for fear it could trigger a confrontation with Israel.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, general secretary of the Palestinian Authority, did not rule out the possibility that the PCC would give peace talks another chance if the delay was for a specified period of time.

Arafat was expected to address the PCC on Saturday evening.

One of his advisers, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to hold talks for another four weeks on issues blocking an accord, such as the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Talks have been deadlocked since the Camp David summit in July ended in disagreement over Jerusalem.

Officials said 127 of 129 PCC members attended the session.

“The Palestinian Central Council will take the right decision according to Palestinian democracy,” Arafat told reporters after returning from the U.N. Millennium Summit.

Asked if the council would declare a state with or without a peace deal, Arafat said: “For your information, we already have our state from the beginning and we will continue to do it.”

The Palestinans had last year delayed the declaration of statehood.

Qais Samura’i, a senior member of the radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told Reuters he expected another delay this time because of international pressure.

About 500 Palestinians protested outside Arafat’s office to express their support for sticking to the September 13 deadline.

The head of the PCC, Salim al Zanoun, said he would quit his post if declaration was put off until after the end of the year.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the militant Islamic Hamas group, said Palestinians should stick to their demands to secure East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

“Jerusalem has only one solution. It has to be under Palestinian full sovereignty and this cannot be achieved through negotiations. It has to be extracted,” he told reporters.

In a move not recognized internationally, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war, and regards all of the city as its capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state.