Arafat backs Bush peace initiative

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The Independent Online
YASSER ARAFAT, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), has for the first time signalled his willingness to drop demands for the implementation of United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian issue, in favour of a settlement based on President George Bush's initiative.

The suggestion is likely to provoke a furore in Palestinian circles. It comes soon after the meeting of its leadership to endorse long-standing demands for a solution based on resolutions of the Palestine National Council (PNC), international legitimacy, the Bush initiative, and a just and comprehensive settlement.

However, Mr Arafat has floated balloons in the past to test the response of Palestinian opinion.

Mr Arafat made his comments in an interview from Tunis with MBC, the London-based Arabic television station. He called for a timetable to implement the US proposals for exchanging land for peace. Asked if he was prepared to end the intifada in the occupied territories and the Arab boycott of Israel in exchange for a freeze of all settlement activity on the West Bank and in the Gaza strip, he replied: 'This is not impossible. I don't say all the UN resolutions (should be implemented), but I say President Bush's initiative has become the launching-pad for the entire peace plan.'

Mr Arafat said he had great hopes of the Bush administration, despite Washington's continued distrust of the PLO because of Palestinian support for Iraq during the Gulf war. In essence he was recognising that the US alone has the power and influence to bring about a solution, and linked his fortunes to Washington. He described the tour to the Middle East last week by James Baker, the US Secretary of State, as 'very important', since it came after a change of government in Israel.

'The Israeli people have voted for peace before voting for Labour,' Mr Arafat said. He added that he was prepared to meet the new Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, 'so that he can make peace with me the way that de Gaulle made peace with the Algerians'.

Mr Arafat was less specific on the question of holding elections for the Palestinian population of the occupied territories. He said his people were not ready to hold local or municipal elections but wanted only 'political elections' to chose a provisional government before 'we go for the final stage'. But he would not say whether he was for or against elections.

(Photograph omitted)