Sharon Offers to End Army Raids ‘if Arafat Declares Ceasefire’
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered Sunday to end army raids against Palestinian territories if President Yasser Arafat declared a ceasefire.
"If Arafat declares a ceasefire, I will order a halt to all military operations. This is what I will submit to my cabinet and I am sure to obtain its approval," Sharon said in a speech to the Knesset, cited by AFP.
"If there are 48 hours of absolute calm, Shimon Peres will meet Arafat to further discuss a ceasefire," he said.
Sharon said the aim of the meeting would be to "reach the seven-day period of calm, which is a prerequisite for the implementation of the Mitchell plan and the easing of sanctions on the Palestinian population."
The Mitchell plan, drafted by a committee under former US senator George Mitchell, recommends a six-week cooling-off period with confidence building measures, a freeze on developing Jewish settlements and finally a return to political negotiations.
But Sharon said that for now, he opposed an Arafat-Peres meeting, charging the Palestinian leader "makes full use of terrorism and does nothing to prevent it."
"Such a meeting would legitimize Arafat and allow him to continue with terrorism without us being able to do anything against him," Sharon claimed.
At the same time, Arafat offered Sunday to meet Peres "any place, any time," a day after Sharon vetoed such a meeting.
"We are ready to meet Mr. (Shimon) Peres any place, any time," Arafat told reporters after holding talks with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou in Gaza City.
"We are ready to meet in Greece if this will push the peace process forward," he added, cited by the agency.
Earlier, Peres charged that Sharon's opposition to a meeting with Arafat ran counter to US efforts to set up a united front against terrorism.
"I do not understand why Israel should say no [to a meeting] while the United States want to create a front which will include Muslims and Arabs and are asking Israel to deploy maximum efforts for a ceasefire," Peres told public radio, cited by AFP and Haaretz.
"The Americans had great hopes for this meeting," said Peres.
On Saturday night, Peres failed to persuade the prime minister to let the meeting go ahead, when the two Israeli leaders held talks on the issue at Sharon's farm in southern Israel, television reported.
"I do not understand why Yasser Arafat has suddenly become an Osama bin Laden, while the prime minister had [originally] given me the green light to meet him," Peres told public radio.
In a phone conversation with US President George W. Bush last week, Sharon compared Arafat with bin Laden, who is the prime suspect in the airborne terror attacks that killed thousands in New York and Washington last Tuesday.
According to Haaretz newspaper, Sharon and Peres are to meet again Sunday in an effort to settle differences over a meeting between the foreign minister and Arafat.
Later on in the day, Peres is scheduled to meet with the Labor Party ministers.
Peres said that the main topic of discussion would be the possibility of a meeting between himself and Arafat. Several Labor ministers, including Defense Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, oppose such a meeting, saying that the time is not right, said the paper.
The Peres-Arafat meeting is causing one of the most serious crises between Peres and Sharon since the coalition government was formed, according to the paper.
Sources close to Peres were quoted as saying that Sharon was trying to use the attacks in the US to prevent the meeting and block any chance of a resumption of peace talks – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)