Arrests and withdrawals could lead to truce
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian arrests for Israeli withdrawals -- that is the latest formula for creating a Mideast truce.
While the two sides studied the proposal from U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, Israeli tanks sealed off the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Monday night, one week after withdrawing from there and Beit Jala.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials were not expected to decide until Tuesday whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be allowed to attend Wednesday's Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon. Officials have insisted that a cease-fire must first be in place. (More on the Arab summit)
The Bush administration continued to tell Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "it would be helpful" if Arafat was allowed to attend the summit and that Sharon should give the idea "serious consideration," in the words of White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
The United States believes Arafat's presence would help assure attendees focus on the land-for-peace plan for the Middle East proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
The plan calls for Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel if Israel agrees to withdraw to borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Meeting Monday to lay the groundwork for the summit, Arab League foreign ministers praised the 18-month-old Palestinian Al Aqsa intifada. They said they held Israel responsible for its "aggressive and uncivilized policies" toward the Palestinians.
While the ministers' statement did not specifically mention the Saudi plan, the Arab League diplomats did affirm some of its provisions.
Steps toward a cease-fire
Zinni presented his latest proposal Sunday to Israeli and Palestinian security officials. It centers on steps each side could take for implementing the cease-fire plan proposed last year by CIA Director George Tenet. (Tenet plan)
Administration officials told CNN the Zinni ideas start with Arafat making a series of arrests of people inside his security services, described as "influential" people involved in terrorist attacks.
Israel would then withdraw from specific Palestinian-controlled areas it reoccupied over the past few months. The exact areas of withdrawal were still being "haggled over," one administration official said.
Once the withdrawals are complete, Palestinian security forces would be expected to take control of the areas "to ensure they do not become future flash points" of violence," this official said.
A meeting between Israelis and Palestinians originally planned for Monday night was canceled to allow both sides to study the proposal.
Secretary of State Colin Powell called Arafat on Monday and encouraged him to enforce a cease-fire.
'Arafat in captivity' or peace negotiations
One senior U.S. official said Arafat's presence at the Arab League summit would allow Arab leaders "to look him face-to-face and make clear that he is on the wrong road or the road to nowhere and he has got to do something."
A senior State Department official said: "The basic line of argument is that this is not about what Arafat has or hasn't done. The issue of Beirut boils down to: Do you want them to talk about Arafat in captivity or talk about the peace process? And that the bottom [line] is that the U.S. believes it's in Israel's interest for them" to focus on the peace process.
Israel's extended Security Cabinet was to meet Monday night to discuss the Zinni proposal and the Arafat trip.
The Kitchen Cabinet -- made up of Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer -- will meet Tuesday when Peres returns from his trip to China.
Sharon's spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin, said "that instead of reducing the level of violence, it seems as if Arafat is preparing for another wave of terrorist activity on the eve of the summit meeting, which is supposed to deal with peace."
The Bush administration shares Sharon's frustration that the Palestinian leader has not acted more quickly and aggressively to deter attacks on Israel and to improve security cooperation, White House and other administration officials said Monday.
But U.S. officials were trying to maintain an atmosphere of cooperation, if not progress, around the Zinni-led negotiations -- believing that if the talks collapse, the situation would likely again deteriorate into confrontation and escalating violence.
Sharon, for example, has been discussing military contingencies to respond to deadly bombings last week, but he is under pressure from the United States to set aside such thinking so long as the cease-fire talks are progressing.
Arafat met Monday at his headquarters in Ramallah with the European Union's Middle East envoy, Miguel Moratinos, to discuss developments toward a possible cease-fire.
Bush: Cheney-Arafat meeting depends on crackdown
March 23, 2002
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