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Israel's Katsav Blocked in Effort to Give Talk

Mideast: Sharon bars president's move to propose truce to Palestinians. U.S. envoy Zinni is due back in region Thursday.

January 02, 2002|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — In an unusual public disagreement over what gestures Israel should make as Mideast violence declines, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday blocked Israel's president from proposing a yearlong cease-fire to the Palestinian parliament.

Sharon rejected the proposal for President Moshe Katsav to address Palestinian legislators in the West Bank city of Ramallah, calling it a public relations ploy by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, said a Sharon aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. That brought a rare rebuke by Katsav, whose post is largely ceremonial.

Katsav, a member of Sharon's Likud Party, almost never gets involved in the nitty-gritty of policymaking. The proposed address would have put him in the political spotlight and would have come at a time when Israelis and Palestinians are holding internal debates about what sort of moves to make to end 15 months of confrontation.

U.S. special Mideast envoy Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, will return Thursday to push for steps toward renewing peace talks, said Paul Patin, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

During a four-day visit, Zinni will ask Arafat to dismantle militant groups and will urge Sharon to ease restrictions on the Palestinians, Patin said. Zinni broke off his first Mideast mission in mid-December amid a sharp escalation of violence, including a series of attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian militants. At the time, U.S. officials criticized Arafat for not doing enough to prevent such attacks.

Violence has declined considerably since Arafat delivered a Dec. 16 speech calling for an end to attacks against Israel, and some in the Israeli government have called for an easing of the restrictions placed on the Palestinians.

Sharon, however, has been reluctant to make conciliatory gestures, arguing that Arafat must do more to end attacks on Israelis.

Katsav was "disappointed" by Sharon's veto, Israeli radio reported, and the president's office issued a rare statement challenging Sharon. "The presidency regrets the tone of the reaction from the prime minister's office, a tone which is both unseemly and inappropriate," it said.

Israeli media cited unidentified officials in Sharon's office as calling Katsav's proposal "stupid" and a "fool's trap."

The idea of the Katsav speech was first raised by a former Israeli Arab legislator, Abdul Wahab Darawshe, who referred to the truce as a hudna, a term from Arab tribal law describing a specific period of nonbelligerence.

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