- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday said Yasser Arafat would be free to travel to an Arab summit next week if the Palestinian leader agreed to a cease-fire but hinted that Mr. Arafat might not be allowed back if the violence persisted while he was gone.
In another incentive for a truce, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said he would meet Mr. Arafat if the cease-fire is achieved. It would be Mr. Arafat's highest-level contact with the Bush administration.
Both sides said a truce to halt 18 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence could be declared after a crucial meeting of security commanders set for today. Violence continued yesterday, with an Israeli soldier and two Palestinians dying in a gunbattle and a Palestinian civilian fatally shot by Israeli troops.
[Early today, the Palestinian leadership announced it was "fully ready" to implement CIA Director George J. Tenet's plan for a cease-fire in the conflict with Israel, Agence France-Presse reported.
[A communique issued by the Palestinian news agency Wafa after a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah chaired by Mr. Arafat said: "The Palestinian leadership commits itself to working for a consolidation of the cease-fire and a strict implementation of recommendations made in the Tenet plan and the Mitchell report."]
The Tenet plan sets out a mechanism for implementing a cease-fire, after which the Mitchell plan a blueprint for getting the peace process back on track can be put into effect. The latter was crafted by George Mitchell, former Senate majority leader, who earlier drew up a peace plan to end the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
["We, the Palestinian leadership and people, are fully ready to begin implementing (the two plans) according to the established calendar and in spite of Israeli evasiveness," the statement added.
["Similarly, we are prepared to resume immediately the negotiations on a final settlement to open the way to applying U.N. Resolution 1397" mentioning for the first time a Palestinian state.]
Mr. Cheney, ending a 24-hour stop in Israel, said he expected Mr. Arafat to take decisive steps to end Palestinian attacks on Israelis by week's end.
Mr. Arafat wants to attend a March 27-28 Arab summit in Beirut, at which Saudi Arabia is expected to present a proposal for broad Arab-Israeli peace in exchange for a return of the territories Israel has occupied since 1967 the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
These ideas have been welcomed by the United States and the European Union, but Mr. Sharon opposes a total withdrawal from territory he considers strategically valuable.
Mr. Sharon yesterday expressed his expectations of Mr. Arafat at the summit and added an implied warning. "We would expect that he will speak on the importance of peace and regional stability," Mr. Sharon said.
Asked whether Mr. Arafat would be allowed to return to the Palestinian territories after the summit, Mr. Sharon said: "If it turns out that he didn't act in that way, the Cabinet will meet and will have to make a decision. I wouldn't rule out any possibilities."
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat denounced the comments. "Sharon cannot put an obstacle on the movement of Arafat and cannot dictate to us what we should say or not say," he said.
The U.S. mediation effort, led by envoy Anthony Zinni, focuses on the mechanics of implementing the Tenet plan.
Carrying out terms of the truce would be difficult for the Palestinian Authority logistically it would have to collect enormous numbers of illegal arms now in the hands of Palestinian militant groups and politically, in effect ending the Palestinian uprising with little to show for the people's suffering.
Mr. Cheney listed the steps he expected Mr. Arafat to take: "To speak to his own people personally about the importance of ending violence and terrorism, to issue clear instructions to his security services to enforce the cease-fire and to follow up closely these efforts to ensure implementation of the work plan."
If that occurs, Mr. Cheney said, he would be ready to meet Mr. Arafat.
Palestinian officials had been angered over Mr. Cheney's refusal to meet Mr. Arafat, but yesterday Mr. Erekat welcomed the vice president's promise of a meeting.
Meanwhile in the West Bank, two Palestinian gunmen infiltrated an army training area, killing an Israeli officer and wounding three soldiers before they were fatally shot. Also, a Palestinian man standing outside his shop in the town of Beit Omar was killed by Israeli troops, Palestinian security officials said.
Earlier yesterday, Israeli forces withdrew from Palestinian-controlled territory around the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Since fighting erupted in September 2000, 1,215 persons have been killed on the Palestinian side and 353 on the Israeli side.


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