JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was quoted by an Israeli interviewer on Friday as saying he now accepts a peace plan put forward 18 months ago by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Acceptance of the proposal -- made by Clinton a month before leaving office -- would represent a fundamental change in Arafat's position as the plan does not include a right of return of Palestinian refugees to their old homes in Israel.
Asked if he accepted the plan Clinton charted in December 2000 after peace talks between Arafat and then-Israeli leader Ehud Barak at Camp David, Maryland, collapsed in July, Arafat told Akiva Eldar of the Ha'aretz newspaper: "Yes, I do."
Eldar provided Reuters with quotes from the interview, which Ha'aretz will publish in full on Tuesday.
Israel and the Palestinians had said they accepted Clinton's plan with reservations, but it never took off against the backdrop of a Palestinian uprising and the election of right-winger Ariel Sharon as prime minister in February 2001.
After Clinton left office in January 2001, President Bush and Israel said they regarded his plan as having expired.
But the Palestinians have said any new peace negotiations must start at the point at which they ended, with a proposal on the table for a Palestinian state in some 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the Ha'aretz interview, Arafat was quoted as saying he supported border corrections and territorial exchanges and that he proposed Israeli sovereignty over, and access to Judaism's holy Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter in Arab East Jerusalem.
That position would be a retreat from the Palestinians' official demand for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all land captured in the 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem, in return for peace.
The Palestinians want to make Arab East Jerusalem the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that has not won international recognition.
The plight of at least 3.5 million Palestinian refugees -- people who fled or were forced out when Israel carved out its state in the 1948 war, and their descendants -- has constituted a main stumbling block in Middle East peacemaking.
Eldar said Arafat did not mention the term "right of return" in the interview conducted on Thursday at the president's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
But the Palestinian leader said a solution for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, now numbering about 350,000, was a priority, according to Eldar.
Bush is now scripting a Middle East peace proposal of his own, but its announcement has been delayed by Palestinian suicide bombings that have rocked Israel in the past week.
Originally Posted By EricTheHun
I think maybe you oughtta get yourself an M-16 ~ Col Hal Moore
Time comes I need one Sir, there'll be plenty of 'em lying on the ground ~ Sgt Maj Plumley