Palestinian Statehood Threat Largely Symbolic

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Yasser Arafat may be putting the Palestinian Central Council through the motions of a debate on postponing Palestinian statehood, but he needn't bother. It's widely known that he's long since decided to put off declaring a Palestinian state. "The Central Council will simply rubber-stamp Arafat's decision," says TIME West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad.

The Palestinian Central Council, which convened Tuesday, also is expected to accept a request from President Clinton that it postpone declaring independence and engage in a further year of talks with Israel. The Oslo Agreement that created the legal basis for the current Palestinian Administration expires on May 4, and with the peace process at a standstill, Arafat had threatened a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence. Washington wants the Palestinians to avoid any action that might push Israeli swing voters into Benjamin Netanyahu's arms on May 17.