Powell's Plan: President Arafat-Without Powers: An Exclusive Look into the White House Plans for the Middle East

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Byline: Michael Hirsh and Roy Gutman

Yasir Arafat's future is on the table--and, the White House hopes, out of his hands. George W. Bush's wish to be rid of the Palestinian leader will be among the topics in key talks this week in New York and Washington between Secretary of State Colin Powell and European and Arab officials. NEWSWEEK has learned that Powell is encouraging the drafting of a plan that would give the Palestinians a state while moving Arafat into a figurehead presidency with limited powers. U.S. officials say it would work like this: under a new draft constitution, written by Palestinian-American lawyers with Saudi funding, a Palestinian parliament would be elected and it would appoint a prime minister, whose name could then be forwarded to the president, Arafat, for formal approval.

Washington badly wants to avoid the embarrassment of having Arafat run for election himself--which most observers think he would win handily. State Department officials hope to get the Europeans and Russians to back this approach, along with major Arab allies--Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan--and U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan. The aging Palestinian leader would then face a tough quid pro quo from the international community: step aside in return for gaining early statehood.

The real question is whether prominent Palestinians can be found to pink-slip Arafat, and whether Palestinian and Arab officials will demand that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraw his troops from the Palestinian territories first. …