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October 03, 2002

Arafat calls on Bush to block attempts to move U.S. Embassy

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appealed Wednesday to one of his toughest critics -- President Bush -- to block a U.S. law that calls for moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem.

"It is a catastrophe. We can't stay silent," Arafat said of the measure passed by the U.S. Congress.

Bush signed the bill into law, but views it as advisory rather than mandatory, and says he has no plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem, where Palestinians seek to establish a capital in the eastern part of the city.

In another development, Arafat's Fatah movement has dropped the idea of prodding the Palestinian leader to relinquish some power by appointing a prime minister. The Fatah campaign had been the most serious political challenge to Arafat in years, but the effort was sidetracked during Israel's 10-day siege of Arafat's compound, which ended earlier this week.

Fatah had been pushing for a prime minister who would run the day-to-day affairs of government.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah member, said that at a Tuesday meeting of the Fatah Central Committee "the consensus of the members is that the prime minister should be appointed after the establishment of a Palestinian state and drafting a constitution."

The sensitive issue of moving the U.S. embassy arises periodically, invariably drawing a sharp Palestinian response.

If the United States relocated the embassy to Jerusalem, it would be seen as recognition of Israel's claim to the entire city and would challenge Palestinian aspirations to set up the capital in the Arab part of the city as part of a future state.

"It can't be accepted at all, for the Christians and for all the Muslims," Arafat said at his battered compound in Ramallah, just a few miles north of Jerusalem.

Bush has been consistently critical of Arafat, saying he has failed to show leadership and crack down on Palestinian militants over two years of violence. However, Bush said he would maintain the long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem.

The United States, like most of the international community, has never recognized Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem, which it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War. The United States says Jerusalem's ultimate status should be determined in peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

But the Jerusalem clause in the U.S. spending bill signed by Bush states that no money could be spent on official U.S. documents that listed Israel without identifying Jerusalem as the capital.

Also Wednesday, Israeli officials dismissed a rebuke by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said U.N. resolutions have to be respected, whether they apply to Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians have long complained about Israel's refusal to comply with resolutions calling on it to withdraw from land captured in the 1967 war. Blair on Tuesday expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state "based on the boundaries of 1967."

Responding to Blair, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that while Palestinian statehood is inevitable, only negotiations will lead to its creation. "No amount of international pressure will bring about the formation of a Palestinian state," Ben-Eliezer said.

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