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Senior Palestinians urged Yasser Arafat not to declare an independent state in the 1970s because they feared it would allow Israel to maintain sovereignty over all Palestinian lands, according to declassified documents.
Newly released Foreign Office cables show British diplomats spent much of their time canvassing opinion among influential Palestinians to try to understand whether Arafat was intent on declaring an independent Palestinian state and how Jordan and other neighbors might react if it were to happen.
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One cable released by the National Archives on Friday records a meeting a diplomat had with Rashad al Shawa, a Palestinian leader in the Gaza Strip, in February 1974, shortly after Shawa had met Arafat to discuss independence.
"Rashad rejected the suggestion made to him by Yasser Arafat on the grounds that any attempt to form an independent Palestinian state would provide the Israelis with an opportunity to insist on maintaining their sovereignty over the whole of Palestine for security reasons," the diplomat wrote.
"Rashad says the vast majority of the people of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are in favor of the formation of an independent Palestinian state because of their hatred to the Jordan regime but they do not realize that such a state would not survive without foreign help."
'Sadat getting fed up with the Palestinians'
In 1974,Israel had already occupied the West Bank and Gaza for seven years, since its victory in the 1967 war, and had just defeated a coalition of Arab states led by Syria and Egypt in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Some Arab leaders at the time, principally President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, were encouraging Arafat to declare an independent state, but Shawa warned Arafat that Egypt was merely trying to rid itself of any obligation to the Palestinians.
"Sadat and other Arab leaders are getting fed up with the Palestinians and they are only interested in the welfare of their own people," a diplomat quoted Shawa as saying.
At the same time, Jordan, which governed the West Bank until 1967 and had taken hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees under its wing, was fearful that Arafat would act independently and cause ructions among its own population.
Prince Hasan, the brother of Jordan's King Hussein, told British diplomats that he would not be attending an Islamic summit that Arafat was also expected to attend.
"Hasan had been asked by King Hussein to attend the summit but the King had now decided that Hasan should not go. There would be no point since Hasan would spend his time protesting at the 'head of state' treatment that would be accorded to Arafat."
Powerful Palestinian businessmen in the West Bank were also unconvinced that Arafat should declare independence, instead favoring unity between the West Bank and Jordan's Hashemite royal family, with whom they had close ties.
Sami Joudeh, a West Bank Palestinian, told Melhuish, a British diplomat, that Jordan's paying of salaries to Palestinians had made the Hashemites popular.
"He himself did not see any future for an independent West Bank and favored either unity with Jordan or a federal solution," Melhuish wrote.
"If it became apparent that their material and political future was more likely to be assured under King Hussein than under Yasser Arafat, they (Palestinians) would vote for unity or a federal link (to Jordan)."