Arafat's Travel Permission Contingent On Quiet
July 7, 2008 - 7:11 PM
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel had not yet decided whether or not it would allow Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to travel to Beirut for an Arab League Summit later this week.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered over the weekend to travel to Beirut to present the Israeli position at the two-day summit, which opens on Wednesday.
At the summit, Saudi Arabia is expected to lay out a proposal for a comprehensive peace plan between the Arab states and Israel, in which Israel would give up lands it conquered as a result of the 1967 Six-Day war in exchange for normalization of relations with the Arab world.
Israeli security forces, already on high alert for months, are stepping up efforts this week in advance of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins Wednesday evening.
Israel has made quiet a precondition for allowing Arafat to travel abroad. He has not been allowed to leave the disputed territories since early December when Israel destroyed his helicopter fleet in retaliation for a series of deadly terror attacks.
U.S. envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni came Sunday to try to bring Israel and the PA to a ceasefire, but after meeting with security officials in the evening, no ceasefire declaration was produced.
According to Israeli and American officials, he presented the two sides with proposals for bridging the gaps between them over the implementation of a work plan for a ceasefire laid out last June by CIA chief George Tenet.
"[Zinni is] working on bridging proposals," said an American official, who preferred not to be named. "Hopefully he will get the two sides closer together."
According to the official, there are still differences over the implementation of the Tenet proposal and in trying to improve the "political horizon versus Israeli security."
Sharon has been adamant about Israel not returning to political negotiations until the violence stops and steps are taken to put a permanent end to terrorism, and the region sees at least one month of quiet.
The Palestinians want political talks to resume concurrently with any ceasefire declarations, with only a two-week period of calm before the next phase of the agreement is implemented.
U.S. Wants Arafat To Go To Beirut
The U.S. is urging Israel to allow Arafat to attend the summit in Beirut, sources said, whether or not a ceasefire is in place.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who said last week he would meet with Arafat if the violence stopped, said that the U.S. believes Arafat's presence at the summit would be "productive."
"The focus of the summit, we think, ought to be on [Saudi] Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal, his plan - withdrawal by the Israelis to the '67 borders in exchange for normalization - and getting the other Arab nations to sign up to that," Cheney said CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday. "If Arafat's not there, it's more likely, in our view, he'll become the focus of the summit instead of the Saudi proposal."
But Cheney said Arafat had to do a lot more to stop the violence before a meeting could be arranged between he and Palestinian leader.
Israeli officials were set to meet in the coming days to decide whether or not Arafat would be granted permission to travel abroad.
However, Sharon said, "as long as the terror continues, Arafat will not leave the territories."
An official in the prime minister's office said that the decision "will be based on the recommendations of the security establishment - whether or not they are convinced that situation warrants it. They will take into account the "level of quiet," as well as the outcome of the trilateral security talks, he said.
Sharon to Represent Israel in Beirut
Sharon told his cabinet Sunday that "when the future of Israel is being discussed, the most important thing is to hear - first and foremost - [is] its position and plans."
Therefore, "it would be proper to enable him to appear before the summit in Beirut and detail Israel's position and its plans since without Israel, it would be impossible to promote any plan whatsoever," Sharon said later in a statement.
Arab leaders scoffed at Sharon's suggestion.
Reportedly a draft of the Saudi peace plan includes a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands it captured in 1967 as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
However, Israel has said it will not give up all the lands it took in 1967 because its borders would be indefensible. It also considers Jerusalem to be its united, eternal capital.
Meanwhile, sporadic shooting attacks continued Monday. The Israeli army said that one soldier was lightly injured in Hebron, while Palestinian sources reported four wounded in Israeli return fire.
Two Israelis were killed on Sunday in separate shooting attacks: \plain\f4\fs23 Avi Sabag, 24, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting near PA-controlled Hebron; and Esther Kleiman, a 23-year-old kindergarten teacher, was killed in a shooting attack on an armored bus as she traveled to work.
Three Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli troops on Sunday evening in the Gaza Strip as they were attempting to infiltrate a settlement.
Four other terrorists, who had slipped through the normally quiet Jordanian border, were killed earlier in the day by Israeli troops. They were armed with Kalashnikov rifles, sniper rifles, large amounts of ammunition and knives.
E-mail a news tip to Julie Stahl.
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