- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

President Bush yesterday urged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to attend this week's Middle East summit in Lebanon and pressed Arab nations to accept a Saudi land-for-peace proposal.
"The president believes it is time for Arab nations in the region to seize the moment, to create a better environment for peace to take root," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. He said Mr. Bush "believes that Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli government should give serious consideration to allowing Yasser Arafat to attend the meeting in Beirut."
The White House prodding comes as the war-torn Middle East awaits word on whether Israel will permit Mr. Arafat to leave Ramallah to attend the summit tomorrow and Thursday. Israeli troops have kept the top Palestinian from traveling after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings, insisting that a cease-fire be in place before Mr. Arafat leaves the Palestinian areas.
Bush administration officials hope Mr. Arafat's appearance at the summit will remove a major distraction and allow all parties to move toward a workable peace plan such as the proposal presented recently by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
"The president thinks that the summit should devote its energies to focusing on how to bring peace to the region, and not discuss who is in or who is not in attendance," Mr. Fleischer said.
Prince Abdullah's plan calls for diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state and a demand that Israel relinquish all the land the Arabs lost in their 1967 war with Israel.
In Jerusalem, Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said Israel would not lift its travel ban on Mr. Arafat until the Palestinian leader takes decisive steps against militants. Israel will make its decision by today, Mr. Gissin said.
Meanwhile, expected talks yesterday between Israel and the Palestinians over implementing a truce plan negotiated last June by CIA Director George J. Tenet did not occur.
An Israeli official said the Palestinians canceled the talks, while the Palestinians denied such a meeting had even been agreed upon.
The Palestinians agreed late last night to attend cease-fire talks with U.S. mediator Gen. Anthony Zinni today.
The United States has demanded Mr. Arafat take a series of steps such as giving the Israelis advance warning of potential violence, collecting illegal arms, halting weapons smuggling and closing bomb factories before he can meet with senior Bush administration officials.
But the White House has not imposed such conditions for his travel to the Beirut summit, and said yesterday the two matters are completely different.
"As far as a meeting with the vice president is concerned, that meeting will take place if and when Chairman Arafat performs, in terms of reducing the level of violence," Mr. Fleischer said. "Then the vice president will be happy to travel to the region to meet with him. …
"It's a different matter, and the United States' position is different on that. … The president believes that the best way to pursue peace, as far as the Arab summit, would be for Chairman Arafat to travel there."
Vice President Richard B. Cheney said on Sunday: "If Arafat is not there, the concern is that he will become the focus the fact that he is not there. We think the summit probably will be a positive contribution. So as a general proposition, we believe that it would be better for him to be there than to not be there."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell conveyed Mr. Bush's request to Mr. Sharon, Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Powell also had a 35-minute conversation with Mr. Arafat in which the Palestinian pressed for more U.S. intervention in the Middle East conflict and more pressure on Israel, said Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
Prince Abdullah's proposal is not without controversy. The Saudi offer to Israel of "full normalization" of relations with Arab governments depends on Israel giving up the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights and accepting a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.
Still, the prince's plan is the only recent proposal to draw the administration's interest.
"The president welcomed those ideas, and he hopes that those ideas would be a real focal point of the Arab summit so that, for the first time, several Arab nations would focus on recognizing Israel's right to exist in peace and security," Mr. Fleischer said, noting that Mr. Bush said in a recent U.N. speech that there should be a Palestinian state.
The truce terms on which Gen. Zinni is working do not require Israel to give up the land the Arabs lost in the 1967 war.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell, however, regularly hold out to the Palestinians the vision of eventually getting a state for themselves on that land.
The administration says it is realistic about how much can be achieved at the Beirut summit.
"The trick and this is where the summit can be helpful is creating an environment in which the peace talks can take root and be fruitful," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Arafat "can do more, should do more, and must do more in order for that violence to be reduced."
But Mr. Arafat said yesterday that he cannot end all violence.
In an interview with ABC, the Palestinian leader said, "I am making a 100 percent effort … but no one can get 100 percent results except God."
Violence raged Sunday even with the cease-fire effort. Israeli commandos backed by helicopters tracked and killed four militants who slipped across the normally quiet border with Jordan, and seven other persons were killed in incidents elsewhere.
Fighting abated somewhat yesterday, a day after the Israelis killed four Palestinian militants trying to cross the border from Jordan.
Palestinian witnesses told reporters that Israeli tanks and troops had sealed off all exits from the West Bank town of Bethlehem last night following a firefight.
In Gaza, a Palestinian was killed in an explosion in his house in a refugee camp, Palestinians said. It appeared that he was preparing a bomb.


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