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Israel Could Renew Contacts with Arafat - 2001-12-17

Israel has raised the possibility Monday of renewing contacts with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat if he ensures that his appeal to Palestinians to end their violent attacks is carried out.

Mr. Arafat delivered his message in a televised address Sunday, calling on all Palestinian militants to suspend their armed struggle against Israel, especially suicide bombings.

Mr. Arafat's speech came just days after the Israeli Cabinet declared the Palestinian leader "irrelevant," breaking off all ties with him.

But Israeli Cabinet Minister Ephraim Sneh, a former military commander and member of the security cabinet, says it may be possible to lift the ban on Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Sneh said this will depend on whether the Palestinian leader backs his words with strong actions against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, the groups that have carried out suicide bombings.

"When we said that [Yasser Arafat] is irrelevant, we meant that he is no longer the address of our demands for curbing terrorism," explained Mr. Sneh, saying the Israeli "declaration is not irreversible, if he proves that he really means to act, very, very forcefully, sincerely, effectively, seriously, against Islamic Jihad and Hamas that will be a positive sign. And then, I believe, he reacquires his position, as leader with whom we can talk."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath said that Mr. Arafat is serious about halting the violence. "He laid out a very clear plan of what needs to be done to stop mortars from flying, to punish perpetrators of suicidal bombings, and to stop all action, even in reprisal for what the Israelis have done," said Mr. Shaath.

Last week, Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon announced he was cutting all ties with Mr Arafat, following the killing of 10 Jews in the West Bank by Palestinian militants.

Acting under international pressure following this and other attacks, Mr. Arafat said he had declared illegal, "groups that carry out terrorist activities."

Mr. Arafat said the Palestinian people are committed to peace and all those who support them should uphold a truce with Israel.