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Sharon Expected to Ask US to 'Boycott' Arafat - 2002-02-06


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to discuss Middle East peace prospects with President Bush and other top administration officials Thursday in Washington.

Mr. Sharon is expected to ask the United States to cut contacts with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in an effort to pressure the Palestinians to end more than 16 months of bloodshed.

This is Ariel Sharon's fourth visit to the White House since becoming prime minister 12 months ago. While polls say his popularity has slipped among some Israelis, the support for his government in Washington appears to be at an all time high.

In recent weeks the Bush administration has intensified its calls for Chairman Yasser Arafat to end the Palestinian uprising against the Jewish state, while openly backing Israeli measures against him and the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Sharon says he will ask U.S. officials to "boycott" Mr. Arafat, have no contacts with him and avoid sending any envoys to meet with the Palestinian leader.

The prime minister's foreign policy advisor, Danny Ayalon, says Mr. Sharon will compliment President Bush on the U.S. led war on international terrorism, and ask him to put more pressure on Mr. Arafat.

"From all analysis, all the evidence we have there is one main obstacle to any progress, to peace, and this is Arafat himself. That has not changed and probably will not change. We will look into ways to keep the pressure so some results can be evident on the ground in the fight against terror," Mr. Ayalon said.

While the White House has repeatedly invited the Israeli prime minister to Washington, President Bush has so far decided not to issue such an invitation to Mr. Arafat. The Palestinian leader was a frequent visitor to Washington when former President Clinton was in office.

Palestinian cabinet minister Ziyad Abu Ziyad has said Washington does not understand the reasons behind the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

"What we hear coming from Washington is that there is a misunderstanding of our struggle for freedom. There is a misunderstanding about our struggle to end the Israeli occupation. They want us to be very nice and to be very quiet to the occupiers. They make a comparison between our struggle and between international terrorism, though we tried from the very beginning to say that we are on the side of the democratic world, which wants to fight terror and we are ready to do that. But everybody must understand that in our case this is not international terror. It is a case of people under occupation and the real terror in our case is the occupation and the acts of occupation against our people," Mr. Ziyad said.

Since early December Israeli troops have confined Mr. Arafat to his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah. While declaring Mr. Arafat "irrelevant," Prime Minister Sharon has recently held unprecedented meetings with other top Palestinian officials.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi is head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in east Jerusalem.

Mr. Abdul Hadi has said the recent support Mr. Sharon has received from Washington and the sharp criticism of Chairman Arafat from President Bush and other high-ranking American officials has led to despair among the Palestinian people.

"This is not moving people to anger and frustration and hatred, but to despair. Despair means uncertainty lies ahead vis-a-vis the relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis as well as Palestinians and the world. Nobody is telling the Sharon policy is wrong, nobody is forcing him to stop it, nobody is blaming him. He has, it seems, a green light from everybody to end the Palestinian dream, a Palestinian state," Mr. Hadi said.

Prime Minister Sharon was elected a year ago on a platform of being tough on the Palestinians and bringing an end to the current conflict.

While security fears have increased after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israel's economic outlook is bleak, Mr. Sharon has succeeded in holding his coalition government together.

Although recent surveys show support for the prime minister's polices has dropped among Israelis, the perception that the Bush administration strongly backs his government has helped him at home.

In addition to discussing the conflict with the Palestinians, Mr. Sharon is also expected to discuss Israel's increasing concerns about Iran.

Israel accuses Iran of trying to smuggle a ship full of weapons to the Palestinians last month, and of arming Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon with thousands of missiles aimed at the Jewish state.

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