Mr. Arafat Goes to Washington

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The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are on hold until Israeli elections in May. So why was Yasser Arafat in Washington on Wednesday, and what was he doing meeting first with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and members of Congress? "Call it relationship maintenance," says TIME world senior editor Joshua Cooper Ramo.

The Palestinian leader is eager not to waste any of the opportunities that have been granted to him by the political disarray in Israel. As the Israelis debate whom to elect and where to take their country following the tenuous Wye peace accords, Arafat has made it a point to remain focused on his immediate goal. "His number one priority is to improve his relationship with Washington," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "His principal strategy is aimed at undermining the United States' traditional pro-Israeli stance." Arafat and other Palestinian leaders believe that if they can warm U.S. officials to the idea of Palestinian self-determination, and ultimately a Palestinian state, Israel will have no choice but to yield on the issue. Arafat's charm offensive "has so far worked well," says Beyer. It succeeded in getting Clinton to visit Gaza last year with nearly all the trappings of a state visit. Palestinians leaders believe the trip may have put the camel's nose in the tent, and Arafat now wants to do his best to keep it there.