Israeli official: Failure to expel Arafat a mistake
Tuesday, September 2, 2003 Posted: 5:43 PM EDT (2143 GMT)
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says the United States has not done enough to keep the peace plan alive.
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Recent Israeli military action against Palestinian militants has killed the U.S.-backed Mideast "road map" to peace, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Tuesday.
His statement in an off-camera interview with CNN came as Israel's defense minister left open the possibility that Israel might move to expel Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president.
Arafat said there was no prospect of Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas resuming a declared cease-fire with Israel.
"The road map is dead, but only because of Israeli military aggression in recent weeks," he said. The interview took place in Ramallah in the West Bank.
Arafat said the United States has not done enough to keep the peace plan alive, suggesting that the U.S. commitment in Iraq or the next year's presidential election are preoccupying the Bush administration.
He downplayed a reported split between himself and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, saying the reports have been exaggerated by Israel in order to create problems within the Palestinian leadership.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling Arafat two years ago, and left open the possibility Israel might take such action soon.
In an interview with Israel Army Radio, Mofaz said Arafat was an obstacle to Abbas and his attempts to implement the road map.
"Arafat never wanted to reach an agreement with us. I believe that he needs to disappear from the stage of history," Mofaz said.
"The state of Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling him some two years ago. ... As for the future, I believe that we will need to address this matter in a relatively short space of time, very possibly even this year."
He went on to say, "The timing [of expulsion] must be chosen so that it won't hurt the current [Palestinian] leadership and allow them to continue the policies that they proposed, they committed to and we haven't seen results from."
In response, an unidentified opposition Labor Party spokesman told Israel Army Radio that Mofaz was displaying a "lack of national responsibility" with his comments and warned they could result in the Arab world rallying to support the Palestinian leader.
Mofaz said the world now recognizes Abbas, Security Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan and Finance Minister Salem Fayad as the leaders of the Palestinian people.
Palestinian youths throw stones at an Israeli bulldozer piling up dirt to block a street near the West Bank town of Nablus.
Abbas has been under pressure to persuade militants to end attacks on Israeli targets after a June summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush to move the road map ahead.
The peace plan aims to end the violence and establish an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
In Ramallah, a newspaper published by the Palestinian Authority carried a petition signed by 250 academics, politicians and community leaders calling on Arafat and Abbas to settle their differences.
Arafat has retained control over Palestinian uniformed police and has appointed a new security chief.
The United States has said Arafat's refusal to give Abbas control of all Palestinian security is hindering his efforts to move forward on the road map.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on Arafat to give Abbas that authority. So far, Arafat has refused.
Dahlan, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, said he believed the immediate leadership split would be patched up, but he indicated disagreements are likely to resurface.
Abbas is set to go before the Palestinian parliament on Thursday to discuss the achievements of his first 100 days in office.
If the divide continues, however, observers said they believe the session may turn into a debate on whether Abbas should stay in office.
Also Tuesday, Palestinians filled the streets of Gaza City as they buried Hamas military activist Khader Housari, 40, killed Monday in an Israeli helicopter attack.
Israel's Cabinet said Monday it had declared itself in an "all-out war" against Hamas, which claimed responsibility for an August 19 suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people.
The Cabinet said it also is freezing diplomatic contact with the Palestinian Authority until the Palestinian leadership takes action against terrorists. (Full story)
Since the Jerusalem bus bombing, Israel has carried out six "targeted elimination" attacks against Hamas militants, all by helicopter gunships.
Twelve Hamas members have been killed. Two Hamas members escaped one attack, but an elderly man was killed and more than 20 other civilians were wounded.
Several Palestinian civilians have been killed in recent weeks from Israeli gunfire, notably a 9-year-old girl on a bicycle who was caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in Gaza Saturday.
Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
CNN correspondent Michael Holmes and producer Sausan Ghosheh contributed to this report.