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No Suicide Bomb Conditions Attached To Hamas

"Cooperation with Hamas is conditional upon an end to suicide attacks" says Arafat to Gush Shalom delegation in an hours-long meeting in which possibilities for the future were assessed.

"Any Hamas participation in the administration of the Gaza Strip after a possible Israeli evacuation or any other partnership with that organization is dependent upon the Hamas leadership agreeing to totally stop suicide attacks" said Palestinian Authority President Arafat to a visiting Israeli peace delegation. "In our dialogue with Hamas, which was initiated via the mediation of the Egyptians, we have made absolutely clear that harming civilians is unacceptable."

A Gush Shalom delegation had come to visit the mostly ruined Presidential Compound in Ramallah, West Bank. The group had to evade Israeli army roadblocks to enter Ramallah, defying the Sharon government's prohibition upon entry of Israeli citizens into Palestinian areas. The initiative to meet Arafat was taken upon the explicit threat to the life of Arafat made last week by Prime Minister Sharon. In spite of the critical situation the hours-long meeting in which possibilities for the future were assessed took place in a spirited mood.

"We are aware of your historical role in the Palestinian national movement. Moreover, we are aware that you are the only one on the Palestinian side who could sign and implement a peace agreement with Israel" former Knesset Member and dialogue-pioneer Uri Avnery told Arafat. "In previous times when Sharon made such threats and the danger seemed real we have come to Ramallah to deter the prime minister and let him know that there are Israeli citizens here. That's what we also will do now."

"Sharon threatens to kill me, but he sent his son to meet me. Omri Sharon sat and talked with me here in this room" said Arafat. "I rather like Omri Sharon. He is good guy and open-minded. Also after Sharon put me under siege in 2002 and his soldiers destroyed most of the compound around here, nevertheless he sent Omri again. And I also remember the Wye- River Conference [1998]. Sharon and Netanyahu sat across the table from me, like you are sitting now, and President Clinton in the middle. We argued and bargained, and in the end we made a deal. We can do that also now, I am willing to meet both of them even tomorrow morning."

Saeb Erekat, Palestinian Minister for Negotiation Affairs who also took part in the meeting, added: "Sharon, then Israel's Foreign Minister, was the spirit of the Wye Conference. He came up with all kind of creative ideas to help reach an agreement. Now he is paralyzing negotiations totally and cutting off the channels of communication. A month ago I met with his Bureau Chief Dov Weisglas. Since then, no contact whatsoever. How does he intend to carry out a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip without coordinating it with us? How does he evacuate settlements without the Palestinian Security Forces on hand to prevent attacks on the evacuating settlers? Does he want the Gaza Strip to become the arena of a civil war, a chaos of gangs and militias? Look what is happening now in the West Bank cities. Sharon has destroyed the Palestinian police stations and disbanded our forces. Look what is happening now in Nablus for example, total chaos. Is this to the benefit of Israel?"

Historian Teddy Katz, member of the Gush Shalom executive asked the Palestinian leaders about their view on Sharon's 'Disengagement Plan.' "I have grave doubt whether Sharon is serious about it, about the dismantling of all the settlements there. But we as Palestinian leadership should be ready for all eventualities, in order to further the interests of our people."

Uri Avnery remarked: "I think Sharon, like a good general, made a plan which could in two ways. In the best way from his point of view, he would not have to carry out anything, just spend a year talking about it, and meanwhile build the wall and the settlements. In the lesser option, he would have to go through with it, but still it would be part of his objective, to give the Gaza Strip in order to keep the bulk of the West Bank."

"Of course we are aware of Sharon's plans for the West Bank" said Saeb Erekat. "Withdrawal from Gaza of the overall Road Map is acceptable to us, and we regard it positively. Withdrawal from Gaza asa replacement for the Road Map, which is accompanied by Israel biting off large parts of the West Bank annexing settlement blocs to Israel is totally unacceptable. We told the Americans that they can define the borders of the United States. The Americans said that they are bound by the Road Map and by President Bush' vision of the two-states solution."

Arafat revealed that the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin had proposed to Egyptian President Sadat to hand over the Gaza Strip to Palestinian rule. "Sadat phoned, and passed on Begin's proposal, but I said that I would not agree to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank." Saeb Erekat: "The Gaza Strip cannot maintain itself even for a short time separately from the West Bank. The Gaza Strip now provides only 18% of the GNP, but 52% of our resources are invested in it because it is the poorest and most neglected part of the Palestinian Territory."

Erekat added: "It is our intention to link up Israeli withdrawal from Gaza with elections in all the Palestinian Territory - presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. That is the only way to stop the chaos and the militia rule and reestablish an effective and legitimate government. Of course elections require the exit of the Israeli army from the Palestinian towns and villages. How can you hold elections when a foreign army can go in at any moment, arrest candidates, break up election rallies, or just prevent voters and election workers from passing from one place to another. We tried to have elections back in January 2003, but the occupation did not let us even get as far as voter registration. We will take it up again now. We already approached former President Jimmy Carter, who headed the international monitors during our elections of 1996, and he is willing to do it again."

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