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Sharon Lifts Travel Ban on Arafat

The Palestinian Authority president has been restricted to Ramallah since December.

Sharon’s office said the travel ban was lifted because the Palestinian Authority had finally arrested the last of the suspects in the killing of the far-right cabinet minister, Rehavam Zeevi– a condition set by Israel.

“I said once they were arrested, I would let him leave,” Mr. Sharon said. “Once you achieve your demands, you must carry out your commitments.”

Arafat will still have to apply for permission to travel abroad. And according to Sharon advisers, if there is more bloodshed, permission may not be forthcoming.

Many nations, including the U.S., are pushing the Israeli government to allow Arafat to attend an Arab summit in Beirut later this month. A peace initiative from the Saudi government will be presented there, but only if Arafat is in attendance, according to Palestinian officials.

The Bush administration has expressed tenative support for the Saudi proposal which would exchange Arab recognition of the state of Israel for a return to pre-1967 War boundaries.

Regional experts have said the reemergence of Arafat as a negotiating partner could create a strategic problem for Sharon, who has called the Palestinian leader “irrelevant” and had limited him to Ramallah in the hope of finding new Palestinian leaders to deal with.

However last week’s announcement that the U.S. was sending peace envoy Anthony Zinni to the region may have forced Sharon into several compromises. Last Friday, Israel dropped an earlier insistence that there be seven days of calm before the resumption of cease-fire negotiations.

And on Sunday, Israel said it had no objections to a plan announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell to send a small number of American monitors to the Middle East to supervise a truce. Israel had previously blocked Palestinian demands for international monitors.