On Statehood, Delayed Gratification for Arafat

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According to a senior official of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat has agreed to postpone the declaration of Palestinian statehood he has repeatedly threatened to make on May 4, the date the interim Oslo peace accords expire. The timing became problematic once the Israelis scheduled elections for May 17. As much as Arafat may abhor the idea of allowing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to crow that his tough positions forced the Palestinian leader to back down, he fears a declaration would inflame Israeli passions and thereby help Netanyahu's reelection efforts.

According to the Palestinian official, Arafat is trying to extract some advantage from the postponement. Most of all, he wants the U.S. to state plainly, before May 4, that it supports Palestinian self-determination.

Meanwhile, European diplomats are pushing a plan whereby the Palestinian people would finally get to vote in municipal elections in April as compensation for delaying the statehood declaration. Arafat, says the source, has put off such voting, fearful that Muslim radicals would perform well and thus further challenge his authority.