WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- Despite growing Israeli unwillingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat at the peace table, the Bush administration contends that he is the man to deal with, key foreign policy advisers said Sunday.
President George W. Bush enters a crucial week in his efforts to bring an end to violence in the Middle East and continue the momentum he achieved in Crawford, Texas, last weekend, when he brokered a deal that ended the siege of Ramallah and freed Arafat.
On Tuesday, the president meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who comes to Washington with a peace proposal of his own.
On Wednesday, Bush meets with the king of Jordan, head of a key Arab state in Bush's plan to get a major peace conference under way.
Last week, at the conclusion of a meeting of European Union members and Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell proposed an international peace conference this summer on the Middle East crisis. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians endorsed Powell's proposal and planning has begun.
Even before Sharon arrived in Washington, his government began a major propaganda offensive to persuade the world that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are behind attacks that have killed 470 Israelis in the past 20 months and injured over 3,800.
More than 1,200 Palestians have been killed by Israeli troops.
The Israeli government has provided hundreds of pages of Palestinian documents captured during the invasion of the occupied territories that they allege establish that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority actually direct and supply the terrorists. They want to find an alternative to Arafat and the PA for any peace negotiations.
"It serves us all better if we continue to work with all Palestinian leaders and to recognize who the Palestinian people look to as their leader," Powell said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week" program.
Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice echoed Powell, telling a Fox News audience: "The White House position is that we're not going to try to choose the leadership for the Palestinian people. Chairman Arafat is there."
Sharon arrived Sunday carrying a peace plan, which has not even been unveiled in Israel. News reports have said the proposal suggests a 600-mile fence that in effect will cut the Israelis off from Palestinians.
There is growing pressure in Congress and particularly in elements of the president's own party to label Arafat a terrorist and support Israel in its effort to find a different leadership structure for the Palestinians.
But Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., told "Fox News Sunday": "At this point, Yasser Arafat is the best of what's not a particularly strong field" and said he would support Bush's decision to stick with Arafat.
Last weekend in Texas, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah told Bush that the Arab states would not let Sharon dictate whom he negotiates with. Bush -- who is relying on Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states like Egypt and Jordan to prevail on Arafat to stop militant acts and come to the conference table ready to deal -- seems unlikely to succumb to Israeli pressure, given the comments coming from the administration Sunday.