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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 19, 2003

Cabinet Convenes; Arafat to Stay

The cabinet met last night in emergency session following Sunday's suicide bombing, discussed expelling Yasser Arafat, decided to boycott foreign diplomats who meet Arafat, but made no other operative decisions.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who postponed his visit to Washington and a meeting with President George W. Bush to hold security consultations and convene the cabinet meeting after Sunday's bombing, issued a statement after the meeting saying Israel will continue fighting terror "at any time and in any way possible."

"The State of Israel will continue to operate in order to prevent any intention to murder its citizens until there is proof that there is someone on the other side who is capable of doing so."

Sharon's comment reflected Israeli disappointment with the results of Sharon's meeting Saturday night with new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli officials said that although the talks were held in a good atmosphere, and it was agreed to hold another meeting after Sharon returns from the US, the Palestinians rejected his offer to take overall security responsibility for one specific area northern Gaza - which would result in an IDF withdrawal from this area unless terror attacks once again emanated from there.

Instead, according to the officials, the Palestinians demanded that Israel announce that it is accepting the road map.

Sharon, who briefed the cabinet on his talks with Abbas, said he drew two conclusions from the meeting:

-Israel will not say that it has already despaired of this new, fledgling process
-Israel will continue on its own to fight against the terror organizations and infrastructure.

Sharon said that while the Palestinians pushed him to accept the road map, he said he was committed to Bush's two-state vision. He said that Israel's reservations to the road map need not keep the Palestinians from doing what is a prerequisite to any road map namely, beginning the fight against terrorism.

The only decision to come out of the cabinet meeting was the directive to all government officials that they are not to meet with any foreign official who, during their visit to the region, meet Arafat.

This policy will go into effect for all diplomats planning their visits now, but will not include the foreign ministers of France, Bulgaria, Hungary and New Zealand who have already planned visits to the region, and will be able to meet foreign Minister Silvan Shalom even if they also meet Arafat.

For the last few weeks Shalom has met diplomatic officials who have met Arafat, while Sharon has decided on a case-by-case basis. A blanket decision now to boycott these visits reflects the government's sense that these visits are strengthening Arafat, at Abbas' expense.[more]