- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon makes his fourth visit to the Bush White House today to seek backing for his policy of isolating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Sharon will also endorse President Bush's description of three countries as an "axis of evil." One of the three, Iran, will be able to produce a nuclear bomb "in two to five years," the Israeli defense minister said yesterday.

In a sign of mounting concern in the U.S. administration about the Middle East, CIA Director George J. Tenet said yesterday he will go next week to Israel, where a cease-fire plan he authored is gathering dust.

Mr. Sharon has refused to deal with Mr. Arafat, who has been boxed in by tanks at his office in Ramallah since early December.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer insisted that Mr. Arafat can control the violence and that he knew about a shipload of arms that was intercepted last month en route from Iran to the Palestinian territories.

"We know Arafat knew about the Karine A," Mr. Ben-Eliezer said of the vessel, which was seized in the Red Sea on Jan. 3.

The Bush administration, although generally supportive of Mr. Sharon, remains unconvinced that Mr. Arafat knew of the shipment of plastic explosives, rockets and assault rifles, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the House International Relations Committee yesterday.

But "he should have known and very well might have known," Mr. Powell added.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer, an Iraqi-born Israeli who now leads the Labor Party and could run against Mr. Sharon in the next election, was the first senior Israeli official to meet Mr. Arafat in Tunis, Tunisia, in 1994 to prepare for the peace process.

But he now holds the Palestinian Authority leader directly responsible for the violence since the September 2000 uprising that has left about 250 Israelis and more than 800 Palestinians dead.

"The days are over when we negotiate in the morning and go to funerals of victims in the afternoon," the minister said.

He told visitors at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that Israeli police stopped a suicide bomber yesterday "one second" before he boarded a bus in Jerusalem.

Also yesterday, two Israeli women and an Israeli man were killed when Palestinian gunmen seized a house at the Hamra Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley. The gunmen were killed by Israeli commandos, Israeli radio reported.

Israeli soldiers also intercepted a truck in the West Bank carrying rockets for Palestinian militants, the military said

While Mr. Arafat remains isolated by Israeli tanks, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Powell have met in recent days with Ahmed Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, speaker of the Palestinian legislature, and other Palestinian officials.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer said this is a sign of efforts to work with Palestinians who are more amenable to ending violence.

But no one is prepared to abandon "the old man," as Mr. Ben Eliezer says Mr. Arafat is called by his subordinates.

"He is the only leader that can stop the whole [Intifada] thing it would take three or four days," he said.

Mr. Powell also said Sunday that the United States planned to "stay in touch with Chairman Arafat."

European leaders have criticized the Sharon and Bush policies of isolating Mr. Arafat, and put part of the blame for the violence on Israeli repression of the Palestinians.

"Europeans are unanimous in not supporting the Middle East policy of the White House," French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told France Inter radio in Paris.

"We think it is a mistake to blindly accept the policy of pure repression conducted by Ariel Sharon."

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