EU swings behind Arafat

01 February 2002

The EU has reaffirmed its support for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as both Israel and the US are getting steadily closer to explicitly calling for his removal from office.

EU foreign affairs ministers issued a statement on 28 January saying that Arafat was still an integral part of the peace process, but that he should also increase his efforts to control violence. 'Israel needs the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat, as a partner to negotiate with both in order to eradicate terrorism and to work towards peace,' the statement said.

The EU affirmation came as the US administration debated proposals to sever ties with Arafat and close down the Palestinian Authority's representative office in Washington. Several key figures in the administration are said to favour taking such steps. The conclusions of the US administration are expected to be discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he visits Washington on 6 February.

The growing disenchantment with Arafat in the US has been reflected in comments in the American media. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on 30 January described Arafat as 'a dead man walking', and suggested that all parties are now just waiting for his demise.

The Arafat question was also raised in a 30 January meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh between Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer - recently chosen to be the new leader of the Labour party - and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 'Israel is committed to the peace process with the Palestinians...[but] today we have no real partner for negotiations,' Ben-Eliezer said. Mubarak said there was no alternative to Arafat, and he urged the Palestinian leader to work harder to stop the violence.

There were two attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem in the last week of January, including the first instance of a Palestinian woman carrying out a suicide bombing mission. This attack, on 27 January, was done by a 28-year-old nurse from the West Bank.

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