Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - An independent Palestinian state will be declared on or around November 15, senior Palestinian officials said Tuesday.
The announcement came as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat prepares to meet on Thursday with President Clinton, who is trying to steer him and Prime Minister Ehud Barak back to the negotiating table and a permanent peace settlement.
"The Palestine National Council will declare a Palestinian state during its meeting in Gaza on November 15," the Jordanian economic daily Al-Aswaq quoted Taysser Qub'a, deputy speaker of the Palestine National Council, as saying.
"There will be no delay in declaring the state and this is final," he added.
The PNC is the PA body responsible for statehood arrangements.
Arafat's spokesman, Marwan Kanafani, said by telephone Tuesday there was no meeting scheduled for the 15th, but one would be held a few days later.
He said the purpose of the meeting was "not for the declaration of a state" but rather for reviewing preparations which have been made over the past two months toward the declaration of statehood.
Nonetheless, Kanafani said he believed an independent state would be declared "around the 15th."
Arafat, who has vowed to declare Palestinian statehood by the end of the year 2000 - with or without an agreement with Israel - postponed plans for a declaration last September 13 after failing to gain international approval for a unilateral action.
May 1999 was initially the deadline set by the drafters of the Oslo accords for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a "final status" settlement. Although the PA contended all along that this meant full sovereignty, Israel at no point agreed officially to this.
In the absence of an agreement the 1999 deadline was postponed. The September 13 2000 date also came and went.
Arafat has left the decision of timing up to the Palestinian mini-parliament, on the grounds the PA is "democratic" and whatever decision the body makes "will be respected." November 15 is the 12th anniversary of the exiled PLO's symbolic declaration of independence, made in Algiers.
The PA wants to set up a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital. Israel maintains that the city will remain its own indivisible capital.
Over the past seven years, Israel has turned over nearly 40 per cent of the West Bank and some 90 per cent of the Gaza Strip to full or partial PA control, putting more than 90 per cent of the Palestinian population under PA rule.
The area remaining includes some 187 Jewish communities where more than 210,000 Israelis live. Many believe this ancient land of Judea, Samaria and Gaza was given by God to the Jewish people forever, in accordance to biblical promises.
Qub'a said the campaign of anti-Israel violence which erupted two months ago "will continue until the liberation of all the land in accordance with international legislation."
Barak's office did not have any immediate reaction to the statehood statement. The prime minister has warned in the past that any unilateral PA action in this regard would be met by Israeli countermeasures, including the immediate annexation to Israel of Jewish communities in the disputed areas.
Arafat is to travel to Washington on Wednesday for his post-election meeting with Clinton. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told official Palestinian radio on Monday that Arafat would tell the president there was no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "except an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."
According to a report from the Israel Resource News Agency, which monitors the Voice of Palestine radio, Erekat said Arafat planned to tell Clinton that any other proposal would be rejected by the Palestinians.
Clinton is scheduled to meet with Barak next Sunday.