The Israeli military establishment has been ordered to draw up a plan for sending Palestinian President Yasser Arafat into exile. The decision emerged from a meeting on Thursday of the Israeli Security Cabinet.
The Israeli Security Cabinet decided on Thursday that Mr. Arafat is "an obstacle to the process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians."
The Security Cabinet determined that Israel will "act to remove this obstacle, at a time of its choosing."
In line with this decision, the 11-minister committee has asked the Israeli Defense Forces to draw up a plan to banish Mr. Arafat from the area.
The Security Cabinet was convened by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in response to the murder of at least 15 Israelis on Tuesday in two separate Palestinian suicide bombings.
Israeli officials said they considered Mr. Arafat the one "mainly responsible" for the current wave of violence.
A number of Israeli Cabinet ministers have been calling in recent days for Mr. Arafat to be banished, accusing him of orchestrating the terror attacks and for his role in many years of "bloodshed and other acts of cruelty."
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said expelling Mr. Arafat would "not be helpful," and would "just give him another stage to play on."
Israeli television, quoting Israeli officials, said Mr. Sharon has refrained from stating his view on the matter.
The officials described the Security Cabinet ruling as an "in principle decision," suggesting that Mr. Sharon had not ruled out the possibility of overriding his ministers and blocking any move to expel the Palestinian president.
Mr. Arafat himself vowed Thursday to stay put, after Israeli forces commandeered a building overlooking his battered headquarters in the West Bank City of Ramallah.
He told reporters "no one" could "kick" him out of the territories.
Asked if he would be willing to leave of his own accord, rather than risk being taken by force, Mr. Arafat replied "definitely not."