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.
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.