Time running out for two-state solution
* Arafat accuses Tel Aviv of hampering Mideast peace talks
* Questions the wisdom of unilateral Israeli separation
LONDON: Palestinian President Yasser Arafat warned in an interview published on Saturday that a barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank threatened the two-state solution at the heart of the US-backed peace road map.
Arafat’s comments came as the United States, the main peace broker in the Middle East, signalled its efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have reached a stalemate.
“Time is running out for a two-state solution,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper quoted Arafat as saying in an interview from his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, where Israeli forces have penned him down over the past two years.
Israel has threatened a unilateral separation along the line of the wall snaking through the West Bank that it says is being built to keep out suicide bombers. Palestinians call it a bid to annex or fragment occupied land and have said they could respond by demanding a single bi-national state.
The prospect of a bi-national state incorporating Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip raises fears among Israeli leaders that Palestinians would become a majority in such a state.
A US-backed “road map” for peace calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel by 2005 has been stalled by violence. Palestinians and Israelis blame each other for failure to honour obligations under the road map.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Palestinians would end up with less land for a future state in case of unilateral Israeli separation.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said unilateral Israeli separation would bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, set up under previous interim peace deals, thus bringing in more chaos to the area.
Arafat also questioned the wisdom of unilateral Israeli separation.
“Will they solve their problem by withdrawing unilaterally?” Arafat said, referring to the violence that has killed more than 2,500 Palestinians and nearly 1,000 Israelis since September 2000.
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in unusually candid remarks, on Thursday said the United States was stalemated in efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We’re having a great deal of difficulty,” Armitage told Egypt TV. “(Palestinian) Prime Minister (Ahmed) Qurie is not able or willing to make any tough stands on the question of security; and on the other side, the Israelis are intent on not compromising either,” Armitage said. “So we’re at a bit of a stalemate.”
Erekat said Israel’s barrier was turning Palestinian areas into “bantustans”, referring to homelands set up by the former Apartheid regime in South Africa.
“The two state solution is being buried by an apartheid system of Palestinian bantustans and walled city prisons,” The Guardian quoted Erekat as saying. —Reuters