JERUSALEM – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is prepared to accept a Mideast peace plan put forward by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton in December 2000, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Friday.
In an interview at his Ramallah headquarters, Arafat told Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar that he would take the Clinton plan without changes, Eldar told The Associated Press on Friday.
"I am prepared to accept it, absolutely," Eldar quoted Arafat as saying, and he endorsed the points of the plan one by one, Eldar said.
Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.
Clinton presented the plan after a July summit meeting between Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak broke down without an agreement. According to the plan, the Palestinians would set up a state in 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza and would gain sovereignty over Arab quarters in Jerusalem and a hotly disputed holy site.
The plan also called on the Palestinians to drastically scale back their demand for all refugees and their descendants from the 1948-49 war that followed Israel's creation, about 4 million people, to have the right to return to their original homes.
After Clinton presented his plan, the Palestinians said they accepted it with "deep reservations," asking for clarifications about all the key points.
Talks continued until late January 2001 but ended without agreement just before a special election, in which Barak was soundly defeated by hawkish Ariel Sharon. At that point, both Israel and the United States said their proposals were off the table.
Now Arafat is willing to sign on to the Clinton plan, Eldar wrote, calling it the first time the Palestinian leader has endorsed it.
Arafat said Israel would receive sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, the last remaining remnant of the compound of the Jewish Temples, Judaism's holiest site.
Also, Arafat said he would be prepared for modifications in the line between Israel and the West Bank and exchanges of territory with Israel, principles the Palestinians have balked at up to now.
The official Palestinian demand has been that Israel must pull back to the 1949 cease-fire line, relinquishing all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem and dismantling all Jewish settlements there.
Arafat did not repeat the demand for the right of return of all the refugees and their families to Israel, Eldar said. Instead, he said, a solution must be found for the 200,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, adding that he was calling on European and other world bodies to help.
Israel has refused to take in large numbers of refugees. Lebanon says there are 350,000 refugees there.
However, Sharon is prepared to offer much less than his predecessor. Sharon insists that all violence must stop before peace talks resume, and then he would propose a long-term interim agreement, during which the Palestinians would maintain control over the areas they now have.
The Palestinians have rejected the idea of another interim accord.