The meeting between Blair and opposition leader Mitzna, close to the Israeli general election on 28 January, had been criticised by some Likud party supporters, particularly as Blair refused to meet Likud Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visited London in December. Relations are already at a low point, since Blair’s planned January conference in London on Palestinian reform has been scuppered by an Israeli ban on the PA officials travelling. Blair wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asking him to reconsider the decision, but Sharon telephoned Blair on 9 January to give what a Downing Street spokesman called a ‘definitive no’. Government officials insist the talks will go ahead in some form.

Sharon continues to be damaged by corruption scandals, the latest one focussing on him personally. He is alleged to have received a personal loan of $1.5 million to repay illegal campaign contributions. The Prime Minister suffered a further indignity on 9 January: as he launched a furious refutation of the ‘politically motivated’ allegations, election officials ordered broadcasters to cut transmission of the speech, on the grounds that it constituted unlawful election propaganda.