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Clinton's trip raises hopes for a 'Palestine'

Palestinians already have many trappings of sovereignty. Will the visit by Clinton help Arafat declare a state?

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The term "occupied territories" is fast becoming a bit pass.

Today, many of the nearly 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza can send a letter with stamps issued by the Palestinian postal authority, buy shares on the Palestinian Securities Exchange, report a crime to the Palestinian police, educate their children in schools run by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, and even get whopped with a bill from the Palestinian tax authorities.

A Palestinian can also get a host of documents - from a driver's license, to a passport, to a birth certificate - without going to the Israelis or another foreign power, a first in the modern history of people who have also been ruled by the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the British, and the Turks - but never by themselves.

All these tastes of independence would have seemed like the stuff of fiction just five years ago, when a Palestinian teenager could be thrown in an Israeli prison for so much as spray-painting the name "Palestine" on a wall or hoisting a flag in the national colors of red, black, white, and green.

But whether these different ingredients constitute a recipe that will soon yield an independent state of Palestine is the subject of much debate as President Clinton prepares to visit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem Dec. 14 and 15 - the first trip by an American president to Palestinian-ruled soil.

Symbolic implications

Palestinian leaders are gleefully highlighting the significance of Mr. Clinton's visit. They see his arrival in Gaza City - the headquarters of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) - as a prelude to US recognition of a Palestinian state.

"We consider this visit as very symbolic, especially from a national point of view for the Palestinian people," Ahmed Tibi, a senior adviser to Mr. Arafat, told reporters. "One of the most important things emerging from the Wye Memorandum is President Clinton visiting Gaza."

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