Global Policy Forum

Secret Pact to Oust Arafat Reported


By Carol Rosenberg

Miami Herald
February 10, 2003

Israel and Washington have reached a secret agreement on conditions for ousting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after the U.S. topples Saddam Hussein in Iraq, a leading Israeli newspaper reported Sunday.

Reached by The Herald, spokesmen for both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to either confirm or deny the report carried in the tabloid Yediot Aharanot under the headline, After Saddam: It is Going to be Arafat's Turn. But Palestinian Authority regime change has been a long-standing goal of Sharon, whose Likud Party recently swept national elections and who has rejected Arafat as a suitable negotiating peace partner for plans for an independent state of Palestine.

Sharon has dispatched trusted aide Dov Weisglass to Washington several times in recent months and, according to the newspaper report, the U.S. and Israel now have a secret agreement -- in writing. It did not report the terms.

But Weisglass told state-run Israel Radio over the weekend that, rather than exile the Palestinian leader, or kill him, Israel wants the Palestinians to create the position of a powerful prime minister, which would leave Arafat in a more ceremonial role as president. Israel has such a system.

If Arafat refuses the transfer of power, ''We'll kick him out of here with American authorization,'' according to an unnamed ''high-ranking Israeli official'' quoted in the article. ''In the White House's eyes, Arafat is no different from Saddam Hussein,'' the official was quoted as saying. ``The two are intolerable to the same degree.''

Israel's Cabinet has repeatedly discussed, but so far rejected, the idea of exiling Arafat, in part because he could resume his once epic globe-trotting and fundraising for the Palestinian cause. He is presently holed up in a corner of the once sprawling Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The report also comes amid increased contact between Israelis and Palestinians seeking to stem two years of violence that has killed at least 1,819 Arabs and 700 Israelis. Israeli media reported over the weekend that Sharon held truce talks last week with Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qurei, known as Abu Ala.

It was Sharon's first known meeting with a leading Palestinian considered loyal to Arafat in about a year. The talks could continue this week. Arafat, for his part, acknowledged from his bunker in Ramallah that the meetings had taken place, and reminded that he had sought renewed talks with Sharon after his Jan. 28 Israeli election victory.




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