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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Israeli anger grows at Arafat

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

It is a mark of how badly things have gone in the Middle East that Yasser Arafat faces expulsion in the week of the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo agreement.

On 13 September, 1993, Mr Arafat shook hands with the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat may find himself in exile again. Or even dead
Ten years on, he is confined to his compound in Ramallah and could in due course find himself in exile again. Or even dead.

A decision to "remove" him has been taken in principle by the Israeli cabinet.

Its statement said: "Recent days' events have proven again that Yasser Arafat is a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation ... Israel will act to remove this obstacle in the manner, at the time, and in the ways that will be decided on separately ..."

However, in the complex world of Israeli politics, there was no definition of the word "remove" and there was no action to carry it out.

'Assassination unit'

It was a statement designed perhaps to appease Israeli hardliners and yet allow some room for manoeuvre.

But the ground has been prepared and Israeli reports say that a special army unit has been trained for what would at best be a delicate operation to capture him.

The quartet which drew up the so far ineffective road map could fall apart. The road map would be rolled up
At worst, he could die. His "removal" in any form would provoke an outcry not only in the region but in the Muslim world as a whole.

And American allies would also put part of the blame on Washington.

The quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia) which drew up the so far ineffective road map could fall apart. The road map would be rolled up.

'Historic mistake'

Mr Sharon is under pressure from two sides. On the one is the faction led by the Defence Minister General Shaul Mofaz, an ex-chief of staff, who says that Mr Arafat should have been expelled months ago.

The reality at present does not lie in documents. It lies in anger in the Palestinian soul and in broken Israeli hearts
Israel, Mofaz says, made a "historic mistake" by failing to act. On the other is the United States which has said quite clearly that an expulsion would be "unhelpful" while adding that Mr Arafat was an "obstacle" to peace.

It is possible that the decision in principle will become a decision in practice if there is another major bomb attack and the Israelis accuse Mr Arafat of conniving at the violence.

They might say that he has failed to allow the new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei to crack down on Hamas, though whether Mr Qurei is willing or able to do that in current circumstances is highly doubtful.

Palestinian anger

Of the anger in Israel there can be no doubt. Israeli moderates are lying low.

Recent reports suggest that some of them, carrying on the talks which nearly reached agreement at Camp David in 2000 and then at the Egyptian resort of Taba, have agreed a final settlement with Palestinian contacts.

This is said to include all the outstanding issues like settlements, borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

But the reality at present does not lie in documents. It lies in anger in the Palestinian soul and in broken Israeli hearts.

'Arafat must die'

The right wing Jerusalem Post has even now called for the assassination of Yasser Arafat.

Its justification gives a glimpse into why General Mofaz is reported to have raised this at the cabinet meeting though he was put down by Mr Sharon:

"The world will not help us; we must help ourselves. We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly possible, while minimizing collateral damage, but not letting that damage stop us.

"And we must kill Yasser Arafat, because the world leaves us no alternative.

"Arafat's death at Israel's hands would not radicalize Arab opposition to Israel; just the opposite. The current jihad against us is being fuelled by the perception that Israel is blocked from taking decisive action to defend itself.

"Arafat's survival and power are a test of the proposition that it is possible to pursue a cause through terror and not have that cause rejected by the international community.

"Killing Arafat, more than any other act, would demonstrate that the tool of terror is unacceptable, even against Israel, even in the name of a Palestinian state.

"Arafat does not just stand for terror; he stands for the refusal to make peace with Israel under any circumstances and within any borders."




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