Arafat: No concessions on Jerusalem
By Lamia Lahoud
JERUSALEM (August 29) - No concessions can be made on the future status of Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat told the Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which met yesterday in Agadir, Morocco. He described the city as the "key for peace and war" in the Middle East.
Arafat appealed to the international community for support for the Palestinian approach to Jerusalem. "Al-Quds is in the innermost of our feeling, the feeling of our people and the feeling of all Arabs, Moslems, and Christians in the world... It is the essence of the Palestinian issue and the most dangerous and sensitive of all issues... We will defend the return of al-Quds to its legitimate owners, and there will be no peace and no stability in the Middle East region if it does not return to its legitimate owners. This is a red line which can't be crossed."
The committee is chaired by Morocco's King Mohammed VI, and Bangladesh, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Syria, and the PA are represented on it.
Arafat had asked for the meeting after he failed to convince the Arab states to hold a summit to formulate a stand on Jerusalem. But Palestinian officials said that they did not expect the Arabs to formulate any specific stand on Jerusalem, only general support for the Palestinian position.
"Following the American warnings, few of those states represented want to risk their relations with the US," one PA official said.
An Israeli source said it is likely the Arabs will give Arafat a green light to negotiate his own deal. "Should they feel he compromised too much, they will be able to blame him without taking any responsibility themselves," the Israeli source said. Palestinian officials backed this assessment.
However, one PA minister said that some states, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco, may try to get involved in formulating ideas on Jerusalem after the meeting. Egypt has already gotten involved as mediator and is working on some ideas.
King Mohammed said a "real and fair peace" is impossible without the return of east Jerusalem.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the meeting serves "to reaffirm the need to preserve the Arab and Islamic character of Jerusalem."
Arafat also seeks Christian support, since he needs the Western world to exhort pressure on Israel, one PA official said.
He does not only see himself as the guardian of the Islamic holy sites, but wants to be the guardian of the Christian holy places, too, he added.
"There is a need for the world community to multiply efforts to free Jerusalem from Israeli colonization and for coming out with a unified Arab, Islamic, and Christian position," Arafat said.
For the first time, a delegation of six envoys from Christian churches are taking part in a committee meeting.
Atallah Hannah, the Greek Orthodox head of the delegation, said: "Al-Quds is an Arab and Palestinian city with its holy shrines, holy Islamic and Christian shrines. There will be no peace in the region unless the city is returned to its legitimate owners and becomes the capital of the Palestinian independent state."
News agencies contributed to this report.
© Jerusalem Post 2000