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White House: Israel Must Deal with Arafat

President Bush says Israel's resistance to meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is an expression of disappointment in his ability to lead. But White House officials say the Israelis must deal with the Palestinian leader.

On the eve of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Bush made clear he too is waiting for action from Yasser Arafat. "He has disappointed me," said Mr. Bush. "He must lead. He must show the world that he believes in peace."

The president said he can understand why the Israelis are reluctant to meet with Mr. Arafat. He made specific mention of the Israeli capture earlier this year of a shipload of weapons the Sharon government claims was sent from Iran to the Palestinians. "After all, right before we had a security agreement done, a shipload of ammunition showed up that would probably be aimed at the Israeli citizens," said President Bush.

Mr. Bush made the remarks while touring a school near Detroit, Michigan. Earlier during the flight from Washington to Detroit, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Israel must deal with Yasser Arafat because he is the head of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Fleischer said the president is focused on peace, and wants others to do the same. He said progress demands time and patience.

The White House spokesman made no mention of a stack of documents that Israel maintains draws a clear connection between Mr. Arafat and terrorist activities. The president also did not discuss the documents directly, saying only that he has thoughts he will share personally with the prime minister. "I'm going to have a private conversation with Ariel Sharon, and would rather that ... what I'm going to tell him and discuss with him be done and he be the first to know about it."

This will be President Bush's fifth meeting with the Israeli leader. Wednesday, Mr. Bush will confer at the White House with Jordan's King Abdullah.