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Sharon Plans to Urge US to Boycott Arafat - 2002-02-01

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is scheduled to visit Washington next week, says he will advise the United States to boycott Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Prime Minister Sharon told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot that, when he meets with President Bush at the White House, he will say Washington should ignore Mr. Arafat. In an interview, Mr. Sharon said the United States should have no contacts with Mr. Arafat, and avoid sending any envoys to meet with the Palestinian leader.

Next week's meeting at the White House will be Mr. Sharon's fourth in the past year. So far, President Bush has not invited Mr. Arafat to Washington, reflecting what is widely perceived as a continuing U.S. policy tilt toward Israel.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has intensified its calls on the Palestinian chairman to take steps to end 16 months of violence, while openly backing Israeli measures against him and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said it is time for Mr. Arafat to make a strategic decision. "Arafat has a clear choice to make," he said. "Either he is going to be with the side of those who are opposed to terrorist activity, or he is going to find himself in the trash bin of history. He will be with bin Laden, with the Taleban, and with all those forces of terrorism, which are now in the sights of the United States and the free world."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad Abu Zayyad criticized Mr. Sharon's recommendations to isolate Mr. Arafat, and called on the United States to reject them. He said the outcome of the meetings in Washington will show "whether American policy decisions are drafted in Washington or Tel Aviv."

A close adviser to Mr. Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the Israeli prime minister's remarks are designed to harm attempts to revive the peace process. "These statements are provocative statements," he said, "and we hope that Sharon would respect the elected president of the Palestinian people and the choice of the Palestinian people, as we respect the choice of the Israeli people."

For two months, Mr. Arafat has been confined to his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where his offices are surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Israel says he will remain under virtual house arrest, until he cracks down on militants responsible for attacks on Israelis.

In this latest interview, Prime Minister Sharon reiterated that Israel does not intend to harm Mr. Arafat physically or topple the Palestinian Authority.