JERUSALEM – After Yasser Arafat's (search) death, Israel must ensure he is not buried in Jerusalem and take harsh measures to prevent militants from seizing control in the Palestinian territories, according to a new contingency plan obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The document lays out Israel's best predictions about the consequences that may follow the death of the 75-year-old Palestinian leader.
Arafat, who has suffered from health problems in recent years, wields enormous power and has said little about who might succeed him — or where he should be buried.
Also Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) formally invited an ultra-Orthodox political party to join his government — the latest attempt to stabilize his shaky government while pushing forward with a planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search).
The contingency plan forecasts chaos in the Palestinian territories. It says Arafat's Palestinian Authority will collapse and Islamic groups, led by Hamas (search), could rise up out of the refugee camps where they have strong support and try to take control of the Palestinian government.
Israel must take extreme measures to prevent this scenario, including a broad military operation in the Gaza Strip, according to the document.
The document, prepared by the Foreign Ministry, is part of regular planning for Arafat's death. Such plans are continually updated by various governmental bodies.
There have been some signs that Arafat's health is deteriorating, including trembling hands and lips, which led to speculation he was suffering from Parkinson's disease. His doctors won't confirm the rumors.
Last summer, Arafat suffered a severe stomach flu, and his inner circle held talks about possible burial places. After Arafat recovered, a medical clinic in his West Bank headquarters was upgraded.
Arafat keeps to a strict diet of boiled vegetables, completely avoiding oil and fried foods. He also puts honey in his tea instead of sugar.
Palestinian officials said Arafat is firmly in control. "He is very healthy," Emad Shakour, an adviser to Arafat, told Israel's Army Radio.
On Wednesday, Arafat made a brief appearance at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where he has been confined for more than two years.
He was in good spirits, smiling and laughing. Arafat — who has led the Palestinians during the terms of nine Israeli prime ministers over four decades — did not comment on the plan.
The Israel document makes a number of recommendations to prevent chaos in the territories.
It says Israel should begin cultivating a younger generation of Palestinian leaders and "pressure" militant groups to minimize their ability to take control.
But it expects the biggest crisis to be over Arafat's burial.
Officials close to him say he has never indicated where he wants to be buried, but the assumption is he would want to be buried on the Al Aqsa Mosque (search) compound in Jerusalem's Old City, a supreme honor for Muslims.
Israel will strongly oppose burying Arafat in the city.
The five-page Israeli document looks at three possible causes of death: an Israeli military operation, a prolonged illness, or a short, natural death.
The document predicts a "heroic and sacrificial story" about his demise and says Israel will be blamed. Palestinians around the world will express collective grief, the document says.
The crisis could include holding Arafat's body in his West Bank headquarters for several days, leading to international pressure on Israel to bury him in Jerusalem.
Another scenario foresees thousands of Palestinians trying to bring the body from the West Bank town of Ramallah to Jerusalem.
The document recommends that Israel allow Arafat to be treated abroad if his health deteriorates, in the hopes he will die outside the country, removing all blame from Israel and making it easier to stop his burial in Jerusalem.
As a compromise, Israel would suggest Arafat be buried in Abu Dis, a Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem that overlooks the Old City.
The plan was based on conclusions reached after nearly four years of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sharon's "disengagement" plan to pull out of Gaza and four West Bank settlements is Israel's response to that violence.
Hard-line opposition to the plan has left Sharon with minority government — supported by only 59 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament.
On Wednesday, Sharon invited the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (search) into the government in hopes of shoring up his coalition.
Sharon has also spoken to opposition leader Shimon Peres (search) — who received strong support Tuesday from his Labor Party to move ahead with coalition negotiations. Labor holds 21 seats.
Sharon's office said negotiations with both potential partners would begin in earnest Sunday.
The talks, however, risk alienating Shinui, the second-largest party in the government and a key backer of the Gaza withdrawal. Shinui was elected on a platform criticizing the historically strong influence of religious parties.
A poll published Wednesday in the Israeli newspaper Maariv found that nearly 54 percent of Israelis want a Labor-Likud-Shinui government without the ultra-Orthodox parties. The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Arafat senior aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh, meanwhile, said U.N. Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is "unwanted" in the territories after voicing harsh criticism of the Palestinian leader.
Rdeneh's comments reflected a deepening rift between the Palestinian leadership and the top U.N. official in the region.
Speaking to the Security Council on Tuesday, Roed-Larsen painted a grim picture of lawlessness and intimidation in the Palestinian Authority. He blamed Arafat for failing to rein in militants and reforming his government and security forces.
"We have demanded that (U.N. Secretary-General) Kofi Annan inquire about Larsen's actions and probably the Palestinian government will act on the basis that Larsen is unwanted in the Palestinian territories," Abu Rdeneh told reporters.