Israel Expected To Ask US To Ignore Arafat

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The U.S. will continue to work with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat but Israeli leaders insist there are other options among the Palestinian leadership.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who leaves on Wednesday for Washington, is expected to tell President Bush that there is an alternative to Arafat's leadership, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.

He will also ask the administration to "ignore" Arafat in an attempt to bring greater pressure on him to prevent terror attacks.

There was no confirmation from the prime minister's office on the reports, but in weekend interviews with Israeli papers, Sharon said that there are "other" Palestinian leaders besides Arafat. He was also quoted as saying that he would ask Washington to "boycott" the Palestinian leader.

Sources in the prime minister's office said that the two leaders would discuss the situation on the ground as well as the threats facing Israel.

The sources said that they expected "concrete results" from the talks and that "firm steps" would be taken to calm the situation on the ground. But they did not elaborate on what those steps might include.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer voiced that same view that there are alternatives to Arafat on Tuesday after meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

"There's a need for the United States to continue to put pressure on Arafat and to open a line of talks with other leaders that are surrounding Arafat and opposing Arafat," Ben-Eliezer told reporters.

According to Ben-Eliezer the Palestinians surrounding Arafat realize the consequences of "the way that Mr. Arafat is leading the Palestinian people."

He named Palestinian Legislative Council Chairman Ahmed Qurei, better known as Abu Ala and Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen among those he considered leaders. He also named two security chiefs Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan.

Sharon met with Abu Ala and Abu Mazen last week in a secret meeting, in which the prime minister said he reiterated Israel's demand for the Palestinians to combat terrorism before there would be any political negotiations.

Powell met with Abu Ala on Monday. But he showed no signs of easing up pressure on Arafat.

"[Arafat] must act decisively to confront the sources of terror and choose, once and for all, the option of peace over violence," Powell said in a tough statement on Tuesday.

Washington has been reassessing its relationship with Arafat since Israel intercepted a vessel allegedly smuggling more than 50 tons of weapons from Iran to the PA. The administration has consistently demanded that Arafat crack on terrorists.

Nevertheless, speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns said Washington would continue to work with the PA and its leader, Arafat.

Sharon in Washington

Sharon's visit to the U.S., his fourth since both he and Bush took office last year, has been criticized by Palestinian officials.

Sharon will meet with the president on Thursday as well as other administration officials. Bush, who has been very harsh on Arafat, has been supportive of Sharon's battle against terrorism.

Palestinian officials argued on Wednesday that Bush was encouraging Israel to attack the Palestinians by meeting with Sharon for the fourth time. Arafat, the most frequent visitor to the White House during the term of former President Bill Clinton, has yet to receive an invitation from Bush.

Arafat advisor Nabil Abu Rudeineh was quoted as saying that it was "very shameful" that a state as small as Israel "is dictating the American decisions." He said that the U.S. needed "to take care of its interests in the Middle East and deal with the conflict fairly."

The PA is still hoping that Europe will rally to its aid. Traditionally seen as a stronger supporter of Palestinian interests, the EU has been stiffened its stance toward the PA over the past few months.

Speaking in London on Wednesday, PA planning minister Nabil Sha'ath called on Britain and the EU to pressure Israel to end its policy of targeted killings and military incursions into PA-controlled areas and to exert its influence on the U.S.

"Europe can once again play an important role in influencing America," Shaath was quoted as saying by the Palestinian News Agency WAFA.

Sharon said on Tuesday that Israel didn't need anyone's approval to defend itself.

"Everyone knows that Israel is prepared to make painful compromises for a true peace, but there will be no concessions on the security of Israel and its citizens," Sharon said.

He added that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU and no one had challenged Israel's position.

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