"The expulsion of Arafat is, as I have already said, the inevitable result of what he has done to provoke the fall of Mahmud Abbas," said Silvan Shalom in an Israeli radio interview on Sunday.

Shalom said Abbas' resignation was proof of Arafat's refusal "to allow any political process to develop". He said any decision to expel Arafat would await "a strategic discussion" in the cabinet, but gave no date.

The Israeli government has repeatedly accused Arafat of undermining Abbas and US-backed peace plan known as the road map, and has said the Palestinian president and his close supporters are not acceptable as partners in negotiations.

Arafat has been confined by the Israeli army to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ram Allah for the last 20 months.

Worsening violence

Abbas resigned his premiership on Saturday after weeks of worsening violence, in which an Israeli campaign to kill or capture Palestinian resistance leaders was met with a devastating bus bombing in Jerusalem last month and the collapse of a unilateral ceasefire by resistance groups.

In addition, Abbas has struggled to wrest key powers from Arafat, which has led to tensions within the Palestinian camp.

Silvan Shalom: Abbas' fall makes
Arafat's removal inevitable 

But Abbas has put blame for his decision chiefly on Israel and the US, saying the former had tried to undermine his position while the latter had failed to make Tel Aviv take the US-backed peace plan seriously.

Abbas was appointed by Arafat in April under strong international pressure, with Washington and Tel Aviv refusing to speak to the veteran leader.

Controversial

Shalom’s comments echoed those of Israel’s defence minister, who last week said his government was considering expelling Arafat.

"I think Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling him about two years ago," said the minister, Shaul Mofaz.

But talk of expelling Arafat is likely to put the US in a difficult position. Washington has backed Israel’s refusal to deal directly with the Palestinian president but remains mindful that expelling Arafat would be a highly controversial step.

Moreover, Arafat remains relatively popular among Palestinians and an effective alternative leadership is unlikely to emerge quickly under such circumstances.