Ten years after Oslo, Arafat and Israel in standoff
RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Ten years after signing the Oslo accords, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is under an Israeli threat of forced exile.
But the longtime symbol of Palestinian nationhood stood his ground Saturday, telling diplomats and his followers he has no plans to leave the West Bank.
Speaking to representatives from several countries at his headquarters in Ramallah, where he is confined, Arafat accused Israel of trying "to eliminate the Palestinian partner and the president of the Palestinian Authority."
He also greeted the steady stream of followers outside his compound, who are rallying around the besieged leader.
"The daily Israeli aggression is offensive to our people, our villages, our refugee camps and holy sites which belong to Muslims and Christians," Arafat said to his followers.
Israel's Security Cabinet on Thursday resolved to "remove" Arafat, contending he is an obstacle to peace, but it did not specify when, how or if the government might move to expel him.
The bitter current conflict contrasts with conditions 10 years ago when Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met in Washington in an aura of peace and signed the Oslo accords.
But that plan, touted by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, is now in tatters and the U.S.-backed road map to peace, pursued by President Bush, is under grave threat. (Historic handshake)
Arafat told the diplomats in spite of the hardships the Palestinian people have suffered, he remains committed to the Oslo agreement and a "precise and immediate" implementation of the road map.
"Our duty today, the duty of all of us is to continue the work that I started with my late partner Yitzhak Rabin, to protect the peace of the brave and to continue and complete that work," Arafat told his followers. Rabin was gunned down by a right-wing Jewish extremist in 1995.
Tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians have been heightened in recent weeks following a string of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis and Israeli strikes on Palestinian extremist group members that also have killed bystanders.
After two Hamas suicide bombings killed 15 Israelis Tuesday, Israeli warplanes hit the house of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar on Wednesday, wounding him and at least 20 others and killing his son and a bodyguard.
The Israeli move also comes as the Palestinian Authority struggles to resolve an internal crisis. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas quit last weekend and Arafat named parliamentary speaker Ahmed Qorei, a longtime Arafat ally, to replace Abbas.
An Arafat aide said Thursday the authority also plans to consolidate its security apparatus under Arafat, not Qorei. During his four months in office, Abbas was in a power struggle with Arafat, particularly over control of security forces needed to rein in militants conducting terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
Hasan Rahman, the chief Palestinian representative to the United States, told CNN that the expelling Arafat is "illegal, it is immoral and it is particularly counterproductive."
He said no power should be able to remove the elected leader of a people, asserting that Sharon "is personalizing the conflict" to make it look like Arafat is the problem.
Rahman said Israel is continuing to build settlements, erecting a fence in the West Bank dividing Israel and the Palestinians and continuing targeted assassinations, despite the Palestinians' efforts to bring about a cease-fire, for a time, among militants.
'Right to self defense'
The international reaction to Israel's decision, meanwhile, is overwhelmingly negative, even from Israel's ally the United States.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the members of the Security Council have urged Israel not to expel Arafat because it would foster tension and instability.
The Security Council is keeping the matter under "most active review" and is scheduled to hear a briefing Monday by Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. Middle East envoy, to be followed by an open debate.
But Israeli officials defended the move and noted that during the Oslo era, it worked diligently with Arafat, who eventually betrayed the peace process and supported terror.
Ra'anan Gissin, the senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, defended the move and asked "What are they crying about? We are closing the cycle. We are defending ourselves according to U.N. Article 51, which is the right to self defense.
"No international organization is defending Israel. No one except for Israel is defending Israel. We have no other choice. Arafat is the main obstacle to peace, and that's why we've decided in principle to expel him."
Alon Pinkas, Israel's consul general in New York, told CNN Saturday that Israel's justification for its decision isn't legal, it's "moral, political and it is based on national security."
He called Arafat "a walking one-man weapon of mass destruction that has done nothing in the last 10 years but flirt with violence, incite violence, carry out violence, justify violence and glorify violence, then you have to do what you have to do."
He said Arafat at one point was a frequent guest in Israel as the peace process moved forward in the 1990s, but "he betrayed our trust."
In Jericho, Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erakat met for more than an hour Saturday with U.S. Ambassador John Wolf, the American coordinator for the ill-fated Mideast road map for peace to discuss Palestinian concerns.
Wolf told Erakat that the U.S. rejects Israel's decision to expel Arafat, whom the United States has shunned as a diplomatic partner.
The U.S. representative also said Washington is determined to keep the road map on the table, and stressed that Arafat's newly designated prime minister Ahmed Qorei should form a Cabinet immediately. The U.S.-backed road map is a step-by-step plan whose goal is an independent Palestine by 2005.