Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Tuesday that the political disappearance of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would cause "chaos" throughout the Palestinian territories, according to AFP.
Quoted by the state news agency MENA, Mubarak said, "I tell you frankly that the replacement of Arafat would lead the Palestinian territories into chaos."
Adding that the Israelis were agreed on this, Mubarak said, "I am not defending Arafat, but I am defending peace and stability."
Mubarak, who earlier sent a special envoy to speak with Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where he has been confined by Israel since December, stated the Palestinians had confidence in their leader.
"If someone else comes in ... will he have the support of the Palestinian people at home and abroad?" Mubarak asked.
Five or six organizations are jockeying for power he said, adding, "this is what I fear."
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told journalists that the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had met with senior Palestinians last week showed that he had gone back on his idea that Yasser Arafat was no longer relevant to the Mideast peace process.
Prime Minister Sharon had also stated that there would be more meetings, "which means he is aware that there is another way than that currently being followed by Israel," Maher pointed out.
However, Sharon told Israeli television on Sunday that "Arafat remains irrelevant since he is at the head of a coalition of terrorism."
In a related development, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded on Tuesday that Yasser Arafat choose between the options of peace and terror and made clear which option the United States expects, according to AP.
The Palestinian leader "must act decisively to confront the sources of terror and choose, once and for all, the option of peace over violence," Powell said in his toughest statement yet on the matter.
During the last months, Powell has demanded that Arafat curb Palestinian attacks on Israelis. At the same time, he has reminded Arafat and Arab leaders, who view a pro-Israel tilt in U.S. policy that the United States supports the establishment of a Palestinian state on land currently held by Israel.
Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Powell stated, "The Palestinian people will never see their aspirations achieved through violence."
In addition, in a message to Arab and European leaders pushing the Bush administration to renew a U.S. mediation role, Powell said Arafat "cannot engage with us and others in the pursuit of peace and, at the same time, permit or tolerate continued violence and terror."
Furthermore, Powell called Palestinian arms smuggling attempts "absolutely unacceptable" and said the Palestinian leader must make sure that such activities come to an end.
Meanwhile, Powell urged Israel to ease hardships faced by Palestinians.
The thrust of his testimony, however, was clearly focused on Arafat. It reflected a judgment within the Bush administration that promises made by the Palestinian leader to curb attacks have fallen short of U.S. expectations.
Palestinian International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath said on Tuesday that he thought the United States was "rethinking" its attitude toward Israel, according to AFP.
During his visit to London and prior to a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, he called upon European countries to exert their influence to pressure Washington and the Jewish State.
A Foreign Office spokesman said later, "They talked about the prospect of progress between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We think that the outlook remains bleak."
Earlier on Monday, Shaath met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and Wednesday he is scheduled to hold talks in Paris with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine.
He said he had received a "positive" letter from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, which showed a "less one-sided support" of the Israelis.
In it, Shaath admitted, Powell wants Israel "to stop assassinations and end the siege [of Arafat] and do whatever is needed to go back to negotiations."
The United States, Shaath added, "are rethinking a little bit, because the Europeans and the Arabs have somehow been able to present an opposite view to the Americans."
The Palestinian Minister said Europe had significant economic and political clout to bring to bear on the situation in the region.
"Europe has a lot of leverage it can work with, economic leverage on Israel and political leverage on the Americans”. “It can once again play an important role in influencing the American role, which is absolutely vital to stop the Israelis from expanding their violence, continuing the circle of violence”.
Shaath added that he was "optimistic", saying the Palestinians were heading towards "a light at the end of a very long tunnel."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has come to the end of his journey, or very close to it," he conveyed.
The Israelis had gone as far as they could, using violent measures to reduce the expectations of the Palestinian people, but "it failed, it didn't work." (Albawaba.com)
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