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Sharon to Call to Sideline Arafat, but U.S. Officials Against the Idea

May 6, 2002
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The United States and Israel are about to engage in a tug of war over Yasser Arafat.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon flew to Washington this week with a briefcase full of reasons why the Palestinian Authority president should not be part of any future peace negotiations.

This is not the first time Sharon has sought to sideline Arafat.

When he visited the White House in February, Sharon called unsuccessfully on U.S. officials to seek an “alternative leadership” to Arafat among the Palestinian leadership.

This time around, Sharon is again likely to have a hard time convincing President Bush that Arafat is no longer a relevant peace partner.

While the United States has criticized Arafat for failing to do crack down on Palestinian terror, Washington nonetheless views him as the elected leader of the Palestinians.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the idea of sidelining Arafat from the peace process is a nonstarter.

“It serves us all better if we continue to work with all Palestinian leaders and to recognize who the Palestinian people look to as their leader,” Powell said on ABC-TV’s “This Week.”

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice sounded a similar note on another Sunday news show.

While highly critical of Arafat’s record on fighting terror while ap-pearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Rice also said, “The White House position is that we’re not going to try to choose the leadership for the Palestinian people. Chairman Arafat is there.”

Sharon’s trip comes days after Powell announced plans for a Middle East peace conference this summer.

When he made the announcement last week, Powell said it would be held on the ministerial level — a move that circumvents the question of whether Arafat should attend.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have expressed support for the conference, but neither side has said it definitely would attend.

Few other details have been released about the conference.

Meeting in Washington on May 2 with leaders from the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, Powell spoke of the need to expedite political negotiations, work on rebuilding security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and focus on the Palestinians’ humanitarian needs.

Powell also said he hoped Arafat would fight terrorism following the withdrawal last week of Israeli troops ringing his Ramallah headquarters.

Sharon was planning to present American officials with documents that Israeli officials say prove Arafat’s links to terror attacks on Israelis.

Israel says the documents were found in Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters and in other Palestinian Authority offices when the army carried out an anti-terror offensive last month in the West Bank.

On Sunday, Cabinet minister Dan Naveh presented a book-length compilation of documents that, he said, reveals Arafat’s involvement in planning, funding and initiating terrorist activity.

Naveh, who oversaw the report, also charged that the documents reveal how Palestinian terror against Israelis was paid for with money donated by European and Arab states.

Saudi Arabia and Syria provided money directly to the families of suicide bombers, the report charged. Iraq also provided such funds, and supplied the Palestinian Authority with weapons, according to the report.

The report also accused Arafat’s office of trying to recruit Israeli Arabs for terrorist activity, and it described corruption within Palestinian Authority institutions.

During his meeting with Bush on Tuesday, Sharon is expected to present a plan setting out Israel’s security demands and conditions for resuming the diplomatic process, Israeli political sources said.

The plan includes three parts, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported:

Israel would refrain from military actions, as long as there is no terror. During this period, steps would be taken to rebuild and rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority, including reorganizing governmental institutions and regrouping its security services under a single authority.

At the same time, steps would be taken to eradicate corruption within the Palestinian Authority, including establishing mechanisms for accounting transparency. This would not only prevent corruption, Israeli officials say, but would prevent the use of donor money for terrorist activity.

Israel will lobby the United States and Europe about the need to replace Arafat with a more moderate Palestinian leadership. Sharon would not demand it as a condition, but would express the hope that it occur.

Senior Israeli officials believe that leaders from the United States, Europe and moderate Arab states have come to the same grim conclusion about Arafat and would be prepared to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to replace him once they become convinced of Israel’s seriousness about resuming diplomatic efforts.

At the end of an interim period in which quiet is restored and the Palestinian Authority reformed, Israel would be prepared to enter into final-status negotiations that would include an agreement for a Palestinian state.

It was unclear how Sharon would navigate the issue of Palestinian statehood, which likely will be a central issue at the international conference.

With Sharon’s Likud Party expected to adopt a proposal at a meeting next week opposing the creation of a Palestinian state, the issue represents a potential political land mine for him.

One assessment was that Sharon would assure Bush of his acceptance of a future Palestinian state in private conversations, but refrain for now from making any public statements. However, Sharon already is on record as supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state.

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