- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday blocked Israel's president from making a proposal of a yearlong cease-fire to the Palestinian parliament in an unusual public disagreement about what gestures Israel should make as Middle East violence declines.

Mr. Sharon rejected the proposal for President Moshe Katsav to address Palestinian legislators in the West Bank town of Ramallah, calling it a public relations ploy by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a Sharon aide said on the condition of anonymity. That brought a rare rebuke by Mr. Katsav, whose post is largely ceremonial.

Mr. Katsav, a member of Mr. Sharon's Likud Party, rarely gets involved in policy-making. The proposed address would have put him in the political spotlight and comes at a time when Israelis and Palestinians are holding internal debates about what sort of moves to make to end 15 months of confrontation.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni will return tomorrow to push for steps toward renewing peace talks, said Paul Patin, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

During a four-day visit, Gen. Zinni will ask Mr. Arafat to dismantle militant groups and will urge Mr. Sharon to ease restrictions on the Palestinians, Mr. Patin said. Gen. Zinni broke off his first Middle East mission in mid-December amid a sharp escalation of violence, including a series of attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian militants. At the time, U.S. officials criticized Mr. Arafat for not doing enough to prevent such attacks.

Violence has declined considerably since Mr. Arafat delivered a Dec. 16 speech calling for an end to attacks against Israel, and some in the Israeli government have called for an easing of the restrictions placed on the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon, however, has been reluctant to make conciliatory gestures, arguing that Mr. Arafat must do more to end attacks on Israelis.

Mr. Katsav was "disappointed" by Mr. Sharon's veto, Israel Radio reported, and the president's office issued a rare statement challenging Mr. Sharon. "The presidency regrets the tone of the reaction from the Prime Minister's office, a tone which is both unseemly and inappropriate," it said.


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