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Sharon: Expelling Arafat not 'good for Israel'


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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a leading newspaper that expelling Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "would not be good for Israel" although he still considers Arafat to be an impediment to peace.

"The likelihood of expelling [Arafat] without harming him is low," Sharon told the Jerusalem Post. "The opinion of our intelligence services is that expelling him would not be a good idea."

Sharon added that Israel's position not to expel Arafat is not new. "Our calculations for years have been that expelling him would not be good for Israel."

Reacting to the interview, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN: "The threat on Arafat remains."

"This is not a retraction of the Israeli position to deport or kill Arafat," he said. "The Israeli government has taken a decision which has not been canceled.

"The important thing in Prime Minister Sharon's statements is that he insists on the continuation of settlement expansion and on building the wall which is the No. 1 enemy of the peace process," Erakat continued.

Sharon's advisor Raanan Gissin told CNN that the Israeli government will continue to isolate Arafat based on its decision that Arafat is the main obstacle for any progress in the Middle East peace process.

In the interview, published Friday, the Israeli leader said there is no hope for a political settlement "as long as [Arafat] is around."

"When he is not around there is a chance. An agreement with the Palestinians won't happen by itself. It requires a Palestinian prime minister who really would be strong, " the interview quoted Sharon as saying.

"So far, the reforms have not been implemented. Any prime minister now would have his hands tied by Arafat."

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