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Arafat Denounces New Jewish Neighborhood in East Jerusalem

By Barton Gellman
The Washington Post

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Thursday tersely denounced Israel's decision to build a large new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, but he did not say how he intends to react.

"This is a big breaching to what had been agreed upon, and it is against the United Nations resolutions and also against the American letter of guarantees and against all the agreements that had been signed," Arafat told reporters in English as he arrived in the West Bank city of Nablus, walking off without answering further questions.

Arafat's brevity and caution suggested he is still assessing the complex political challenge that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 has laid before him. He did not call for Palestinian resistance or predict an outbreak of violence over the new housing project. Members of his Fatah movement intervened when some 2,000 youths marched on the hillside site - called Jebel Abu Ghenaim in Arabic and Har Homa in Hebrew - discouraging them from throwing stones or trying to push through lines of soldiers at the foot of the hill.

But Israeli, Palestinian and Western officials said it is too soon to say he will not make a move. Arafat, they said, understands Netanyahu's decision as a power play to strengthen Israel's grip on all parts of the disputed city. He has good reasons for caution in the short term - including a meeting scheduled next week with President Clinton - but could turn up the heat after that.

Roni Shaked, a military correspondent for the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper with close links to the Shin Bet internal security service, published an unsourced assessment Thursday that was phrased like a weather report:

"Short term-declarations of a crisis using harsh language as part of a plan to prepare the Palestinian public for a confrontation; launching a diplomatic attack. In the next two weeks to a month - launching a wide street campaign like the intifada," the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, known by the Arabic acronym Hamas, or at least the harder-line faction of it headquartered abroad, predicted that Palestinian street opinion will defy any effort by Arafat to soft-pedal the confrontation with Israel. Hamas has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that have killed scores of Israelis in recent years.

"The Palestinian people feel they have a knife on their hearts and they will want to express their pain with strong demonstrations," Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh, who typically is more militant than spokesmen in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said in Amman, Jordan.

"It seems there are strict orders from Arafat not to confront the Israelis," he said. "But Arab and Muslim people will not accept this step and will try to express their rejection."

Israeli officials, who had expected international criticism for the Har Homa project, watched continuing waves of it roll in Thursday - from Japan, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan SM '72, the Arab League and, least surprisingly, Iran. They said it would take days or weeks to gauge the strength of the backlash, but most suggested Israel could ride it out.

"I think it's too early to say exactly what the reaction will be," said Dore Gold, foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu.