Monday, October 07, 2002

Angered by U.S., Palestinians Act on Jerusalem
At a meeting suffused with anger over United States Congressional legislation declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, the Palestinian parliament today ratified a bill signed by Yasir Arafat designating the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The parliament also gave Mr. Arafat an extra month to appoint a new cabinet, postponing a central goal of the proponents of Palestinian democratic change.

Last week, President Bush signed the legislation, a $4 billion State Department authorization bill for the new fiscal year. Mr. Bush said he was not bound by its provision regarding Jerusalem, which stipulated that no money could be spent on official United States documents that listed Israel without identifying this disputed city as its capital.

But news of the American legislation has provoked anger well beyond the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Today, Malaysia's prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said the measure was "pouring oil on the fire."

Thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated against the legislation in recent days. Some do not seem to have understood the administration's position that it does not mark a change in policy. Others say Mr. Bush's signature guarantees that it will become policy sooner or later.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian parliament, said of the American measure, "It's a clear case of congressmen rushing in where angels fear to tread."

Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for Mr. Arafat, called the American legislation particularly threatening to Palestinians in light of Israel's continuing construction of settlements around Jerusalem. "This will go down in history as the gravest mistake of this administration vis-à-vis the peace efforts here," he said.

Members of parliament said they gave Mr. Arafat more time to form a government because of Israel's recent 10-day siege of his compound. The siege ended a week ago at the urging of the Bush administration, which said it was undermining Palestinian reform and its own campaign to rally support against Iraq.

"This was a direct blow to the reform efforts and to the timetable we had set up," Dr. Ashrawi said, adding in reference to Mr. Arafat that it "bought the president more time."