Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Thursday hinted at delaying a planned unilateral declaration of independence for Palestine, a Foreign Ministry official said.

“I wish to make a final decision that will satisfy all the nations — including Japan — that advised me to postpone the declaration at least until Israel holds a general election (May 17),” Arafat was quoted as telling Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on the second and final day of his visit to Japan.

“Our impression was that he intends to delay this,” the official said. “But Mr. Arafat also voiced caution by saying it will be a tough decision.”

Obuchi urged Arafat to exercise restraint and avoid a unilateral declaration of independence after an interim Palestinian autonomy expires May 4.

In response, Arafat said the looming legal and political void that could engulf Palestine after May 4 would present a difficult situation for Palestinians, but he hopes to deal with it in a way that will satisfy the international community.

Reiterating a comment in talks the previous day with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, Arafat said he intends to make a final decision around April 27, when the Palestinian Central Council convenes to discuss statehood, the official said.

During their talks Thursday morning at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Obuchi conveyed Japan’s support for an independent Palestinian state in the future by proceeding with the current peace plan, the official said.

Under a landmark peace accord in Oslo in September 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed on mutual recognition, withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian self-rule government.

However, controversy has arisen over whether the Palestinians will unilaterally declare independence after their five-year interim autonomy expires May 4. Such a move will likely draw opposition from Israel and derail the peace process.

Israel will hold an election for prime minister May 17. Hardline incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, one of five candidates, has been cautious about implementing the peace process, including a further military pullout from the West Bank and status talks for Jerusalem.

Although Obuchi did not mention the upcoming Israeli election, he told Arafat that it may harm the peace process if Palestinians unilaterally declare independence May 4, the official said.

Arafat is touring the United States, Russia, China and European and Arab countries to seek advice on the issue. The countries have advised him to postpone such a declaration until after the Israeli election, Arafat was quoted as saying.

During his meeting Wednesday with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, Arafat said the autonomous Palestinian government will make its final decision on the independence issue at its central committee meeting later this month, most likely April 27.

In the meeting, Komura conveyed Japan’s intention to host a meeting in Tokyo in early September to organize global support — especially economic support — for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

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