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Arafat Remains Defiant in Face of Possible Exile - 2003-09-13

Palestinians continue to rally in support of Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian leader remains defiant in the face of an Israeli plan to possibly force him into exile. Israel too is defiant, saying it will not be swayed by international criticism of the plan.

Ten years ago to the day, Israel and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO, signed the Oslo Peace Accords, which provided mutual recognition and Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. It was to be the first step in a process toward full peace between the two sides.

Little is left of the euphoria of the post-Oslo days. More than 800 Israelis and about 2,500 Palestinians have been killed in three years of violence. Yasser Arafat has been a virtual prisoner in his mostly demolished compound in Ramallah for most of the past two years. And, another internationally-backed peace plan, the so-called road map, is in tatters.

This past week, the Israeli Security Cabinet approved a plan to "remove" Mr. Arafat at some future date, leaving open the possibility of assassination, arrest, deportation or further isolation. Israel deems Mr. Arafat an obstacle to peace, and accuses him of fomenting violence, a charge he denies.

On Saturday, the Palestinian leader met with foreign diplomats in his office and urged the international community to pressure Israel to make peace. He insisted he remains committed to the road map to peace.

Palestinians again took to the streets on Saturday, as they have over the past few days to show their support for Mr. Arafat and their defiance of Israel.

The Israeli threat of possible forced exile has resulted in a flurry of international criticism, even from traditional supporters like the United States.

Israel has thus far remained defiant, saying it will not bow to international pressure. A senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is quoted as saying that Yasser Arafat is a terrorist leader, and Israel could not allow others to dictate how to protect its citizens.