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December 07, 2002

Bid to oust Arafat takes back seat
Policy on new leadership softened in 'roadmap' for Mideast peace process

A policy shift that had not been announced, it seems.
WASHINGTON - Five months after President Bush called for new Palestinian leadership untainted by terror - a clear signal that perennial survivor Yasser Arafat had to go - U.S. officials are now playing down that demand in a bid to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

American officials insist that their determination to see Arafat stripped of power has never flagged and say that they recognize the peace process is likely to go nowhere while he controls the Palestinian Authority.

But they say that making him a target could merely boost his popularity and prevent the emergence of the kind of reform-minded leaders that both Americans and Israelis are demanding - leaders who could quell violence against Israelis and become credible negotiating partners for Israel.

"When you target Arafat, you reinforce him," a State Department official said. "He's been synonymous with the Palestinian cause for 30 years. By making him the center of debate, you render impotent the people who could work for a new dynamic" among Palestinians.