July 12 — The Israeli government moved today to focus international
blame on Yasir Arafat for setbacks in the Middle East peace efforts,
urging European leaders to isolate the Palestinian leader and warning
that it might eventually arrest or deport him.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, canceled a planned
meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, after coming
under sharp criticism from Mr. Arafat and other Palestinian officials
who contended that he had botched negotiations with Israel.
while Mr. Abbas has largely withdrawn from public view, his allies
have said that Israel must advance the peace efforts by making concessions
— like releasing large numbers of Palestinian prisoners — that might
strengthen Mr. Abbas's political standing.
But in advance
of a visit to London on Sunday, Mr. Sharon said that Mr. Arafat
was obstructing peace and that European leaders were making "a major
mistake" by dealing with him.
of this nature only postpones the progress in the process," Mr.
Sharon said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. He said that
the effect was to undermine Mr. Abbas.
said that, in recent contacts with the Bush administration, the
Israeli government had said it might reconsider its policy of not
arresting or deporting Mr. Arafat if he interfered with Mr. Abbas,
known as Abu Mazen.
continues to attempt to scuttle the peace process and undermine
Abu Mazen and his government, we will have no other recourse than
to reconsider and discuss again the question of Arafat's status
and position," said a senior official in Mr. Sharon's office.
For more than
a year, the Bush administration has joined Israel in refusing to
deal with Mr. Arafat. Under American, Israeli, and European pressure,
Mr. Arafat reluctantly appointed Mr. Abbas prime minister this spring,
and the Palestinian parliament confirmed him.
Though he had
worked with Mr. Arafat for decades in the Palestinian leadership,
Mr. Abbas was a critic of the armed Palestinian uprising. The Israeli
and American governments embraced him as the alternative leader
they were seeking.
Mr. Abbas has
been careful to consult regularly with Mr. Arafat, but tension has
increased between them as an American-backed peace plan has moved
ahead. The tension burst into the open this week as Mr. Arafat and
his allies accused Mr. Abbas of gaining almost nothing from Israel
in exchange for an agreement two weeks ago by the main Palestinian
factions to suspend violence.
While Mr. Abbas
has strong international support and Mr. Arafat is shunned by the
United States and others, Mr. Arafat has strong support among Palestinians,
and Mr. Abbas risks being seen by them as an Israeli and American
agent. Further isolating Mr. Arafat would only enhance that image,
said Hisham Ahmed, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University
tightens the siege and the isolation of Arafat, people will point
the finger at Abu Mazen and his government," Mr. Ahmed said. Already,
he said, "People constantly mock Abu Mazen and his government on
He said that
"the only one who could enable Abu Mazen to succeed is Sharon,"
listing steps like releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing
Israeli military roadblocks.
Under the peace
plan, Israel has withdrawn from parts of the Gaza Strip and most
of the West Bank city of Bethlehem. It has said it will not pull
back from other Palestinian areas until Mr. Abbas acts to suppress
militant groups and collect their weapons. After a series of suicide
bombings last year, Israel reoccupied Palestinian cities in the
West Bank that it had ceded to Palestinian control.
also released about 280 Palestinian prisoners, and it says it is
preparing to release some 300 more. Israel is not required by the
peace plan to take that step, which is politically sensitive within
Israel, but Mr. Sharon says he believes it will strengthen Mr. Abbas.
Mr. Abbas's minister of security, told Israeli officials on Thursday
that to help Mr. Abbas and the peace plan they must release many
more of the roughly 5,800 prisoners they hold.
But the senior
Israeli official said that any such step would be meaningless unless
Mr. Arafat was stripped of all authority. "Even if you release all
the prisoners and Arafat remains in position, nothing will happen,"
the senior Israeli official said. "He will take credit."
has said in the past that he was prevented from acting to deport
Mr. Arafat by a pledge made to President Bush not to harm the Palestinian