Israeli PM Invited To Washington Following Arafat Release

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

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will head to Washington over the weekend to present a comprehensive peace plan to President Bush, his foreign policy advisor said on Thursday.

The invitation to the White House followed Sharon's agreement to end the siege on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, allowing Arafat to travel abroad freely after five months of enforced isolation in his compound.

Sharon's senior foreign policy advisor Zalman Shoval said the purpose of Sharon's trip at this time is two-fold: to discuss regional issues and the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Sharon wants to present "quite detailed and specific proposals to deal with the present situation," Shoval said in a telephone interview.

"The Prime Minister proposed a regional conference," he said. They need to discuss the nature of that conference, he added.

Sharon will discuss Israel's specific ideas concerning territory and economy and how those ideas could converge or not converge with a Saudi proposal.

Bush, who met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at his Texas ranch last week, has backed a Saudi initiative, which won wide support in the Arab world at an Arab League summit two months ago.

The Saudi proposal offered Israel normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including part of Jerusalem - lands it captured from Egypt and Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day war.

Some 400,000 Israelis live in those areas, including Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Only Jordan and Egypt have full diplomatic ties with Israel, but those have been strained since the beginning of the Palestinian intifadah (uprising) in September 2000.

Moderate Arab states are the key

According to Shoval, peace in the region will depend on whether moderate Arab states can convince Arafat to abandon terrorism and violence.

"A great deal will depend on the so-called moderate Arab States - Saudi Arabia and Egypt," Shoval said. "Sooner or later there will be a meeting between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yasser Arafat."

It will be up to them to convince Arafat to abandon terrorism and violence, he added.

"If the message is clear enough, loud enough, strong enough, theoretically there is a chance to establish calm, not maybe a peace treaty," Shoval said.

Terrorist buffer zone

In an interview on ABC's "Nightline," Sharon said that he would also present to Bush a security proposal, which would create a physical buffer zone between Israel and the West Bank.

The buffer zone would be intended to stop "the penetration of terrorists to the heart of the country," Sharon said. He acknowledged that the plan would be expensive and said he would request U.S. aid for it.

According to Shoval, Sharon's visit will also allow the leaders "to have an opportunity to discuss wider ranging developments in the Middle East," particularly with regards to America's plans with Iraq.

He declined to speculate on whether he believed a U.S. attack on Iraq or its leader Saddam Hussein was imminent.

Sharon is scheduled to be in the U.S. from Sunday through Wednesday, his office said on Thursday.