The Israeli government has let it be known that there could be a contract on Yasser Arafat.
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Guardian newspaper that assassinating the Palestinian leader is being considered.
Olmert said that is one way of carrying out Israels threat to remove the PLO chief, whom they see as an obstacle to peace.
The Palestinian leadership promptly denounced the statement, claiming it showed the thinking of the Mafia, not of a government.
The announcement also led to unusual and intense questioning of the security strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by the Israeli political establishment. There is growing belief in the country that Sharons stubborn insistence on a military solution to the Mideast conflict is costing Israeli lives.
By weeks end, former prime minister and opposition party leader, Shimon Peres, spoke out, warning Sharon that the decision to eliminate Arafat by whatever means will only aid Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group.
This government has destroyed the peace process, Peres said.
Olmert said on Israel radio that the cabinet decision to remove Arafat could be seen in the same light as Sharons pledge to destroy the leadership of Hamas.
Killing is definitely one of the options, Olmert said. We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terror, and Arafat is one of the heads of terror.
That statement was immediately condemned by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who branded it as the thinking of hoodlums.
Palestinian leaders have found unusual backing within the Israeli political majority for the stated approach. The majority until now have backed away from Sharons iron-fisted policies and attacks.
Peres Labour Party, however, was angered when Sharon appeared to undermine a seven-week ceasefire by continued killing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. The truce had caused a lull in desperate bombings, but the resumption of targeted killings by the Israeli army has provoked what the two Palestinian groups said were retaliatory suicide bombings. More than 30 people were killed.
The Labour Partys chairwoman, Dalia Itzik, told a party meeting at the weekend that Sharon was sacrificing Israeli lives. The prime minister has failed completely and must resign, she said.
The Meretz Party, a liberal group, also condemned the move against Arafat as unnecessarily jeopardizing Israeli lives and strengthening Hamas.
If you deport Arafat, you leave the ground only for Hamas, the party said. Thats not something the government is doing out of stupidity. Its a strategy to keep things as they are, to prevent the solution of two states, they said.