Britain Rebuffs Sharon's Appeal to Boycott Arafat
Britain Rebuffs Israeli PM’s Appeal to Boycott Arafat
Britain rebuffed visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s appeal Monday to cut ties with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Sharon, calling Arafat the “main obstacle” to a revived Middle East peace process, failed to persuade Prime Minister Tony Blair to cut Britain’s ties with the Palestinian president.
“We still have our differences with Britain on a series of issues, including Arafat,” a senior Israeli official said after Blair hosted a private dinner for Sharon, who was on a three-day visit, in London on Monday.
Sharon met with Blair, following talks earlier with the UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to deliver what a senior Israeli official said was a message that "any contact with Arafat” weakens Palestine National Authority (PNA) Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
Before sitting down with Sharon, Blair let Foreign Secretary Jack Straw deliver the rejection of Sharon’s message.
A British official said: “The foreign secretary made it clear that the British position, which is also that of the European Union, is that we would continue to have dealings with Arafat.”
“We will continue to have dealings with (Arafat) as long as we judge it to be useful,” the British official said after Sharon met with Straw.
Britain has argued it cannot ignore the democratically elected Palestinian president although Israel and the United States shun him.
Prior to Sharon's meeting with Straw, an Israeli source told AFP: "The prime minister will say that Arafat remains the major obstacle on the road to peace because of his relentless efforts to undermine the process and Abu Mazen.”
Abu Mazen is the nom-de-guerre of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas.
However the official described the Blair – Sharon meeting as “an intimate meeting between friends.” A Downing Street spokesman called the talks “warm and constructive” and said both leaders restated a commitment to a Middle East peace plan known as the “roadmap.”
Blair’s invitation to Sharon is viewed in Israel as particularly significant because it believes his close ties with the US President George W. Bush make him the most influential leader in the European Union.
It is also conventional wisdom in Israel that it was Blair who twisted Bush’s arm to publish the “roadmap” peace plan in a bid to display even-handedness toward an Arab world angered by the US-led invasion of Iraq.