Bush and Sharon likely to disagree on how to handle Arafat

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will stress in his meeting today with U.S. President George W. Bush the complicity of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in terrorist attacks against Israel. Despite the evidence documenting Arafat's support for terror, the American president is expected to tell Sharon that Israel has no choice but to negotiate with the Palestinian leader.

Sharon will present Bush with documents detailing how Arafat financed and supported terrorists acting against Israel, as well as providing proof of payments by the Saudi Arabian government to the families of suicide bombers and to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations.

Evidence in the documents, gathered by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield and in the interrogation of Palestinians suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, was being reviewed by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials. "I assume that the Israeli prime minister is going to give the president documents that he believes to be true," Rice told Fox News on Sunday. "That's good enough for us," she added.

CNN said that it was given a copy of the report on Sunday, and commented that "none of the documents seemed to show a direct link between the Palestinian leadership and specific acts of violence." The New York Times said the documents "do not appear to show definitively that the Palestinian leader ordered terror attacks."

"Yasser Arafat was personally involved in the planning and execution of terror attacks," Minister without portfolio Danny Naveh (Likud) charged at a press conference when he presented the so-called "Arafat file." "He encouraged them ideologically, authorized them financially and personally headed the Fatah al Aqsa Brigades organization."

Despite the evidence, Arafat remains the leader

White House officials told CNN that while the United States accepts some of the evidence Israel has provided, "the political reality is that Arafat remains the leader of the Palestinian people and Israel will have to deal with him."

"He has disappointed me," Bush said again of the Palestinian leader yesterday. "He must lead. He must show the world that he believes in peace."

Before his meeting with Sharon on Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked if Arafat was still relevant in the peace process. "Well, he's still there," Powell said.

On Sunday, Powell said on ABC-TV's "This Week" program, "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."

"The White House position is that we're not going to try to choose the leadership for the Palestinian people. Chairman Arafat is there," Rice said.

But Sharon appeared determined to single out Arafat as an impediment to peace. "A responsible Palestinian Authority that can advance the cause of peace should not be dependent on the will of one man," Sharon said in a reference to Arafat in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League. Sharon called for "major institutional, structural reforms in the Palestinian Authority... with full transparency and accountability" and a unification of its rival security forces.

Sharon was expected to tell Bush that "Arafat is a terrorist" and insist that Israel would not participate in negotiations with the Palestinians as long as they were led by Arafat, Yediot Aharonot reported. Israel had faced "a brutal campaign of terror instigated and encouraged by the Palestinian Authority and its leader," Sharon told the ADL.

Senior American officials said that Bush would listen patiently to Sharon's condemnation of Arafat, but then state that, whether Israel likes it or not, Arafat was still "partner" in the peace process.

American officials said they hoped the issue of whether Arafat was a "terrorist" or a "partner" would not dominate the Bush-Sharon talks, Ha'aretz reported. Though the issue would be discussed in the meeting, the officials said they hoped the emphasis would be on long-term solutions.

One issue expected to be raised during Sharon's talks in Washington is that of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said the issue had not been discussed at all during Sharon's meetings with Powell and Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld. But Yishai expected the issue to be broached when Sharon meets with Bush, Ha'aretz reported.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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