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Russian Foreign Minister Meets Yasser Arafat

Israeli politicians were very indignant with that

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov started his Middle east tour with the Palestinian autonomy. A small diplomatic scandal took place during the visit as the minister had a meeting with Yasser Arafat - the Israeli government considers this person the main inspirer of terrorist attacks. Former minister Natan Sharansky said anyone who wanted to bring Arafat back in the political life and retrieve his authority of an international political figure, was assisting in the development of terrorism. Sharansky emphasized in his interview to Echo of Moscow radio station: "It is a great pity that Russia is reaching out a hand to Arafat, although Russia perfectly understands that it is vital to run a hard-edged struggle with terrorism and cut all ties between terror and political activities."

It seems Natan Sharansky has expressed the official position of the Israeli government regarding the meeting between Igor Ivanov and Yasser Arafat. As a result, the relations between Russia and Israel might worsen to a certain extent. Nevertheless, Israeli authorities were most likely aware of Ivanov’s plans prior to the actual visit. It is hard to suppose that the Russian foreign minister decided to have a meeting with Arafat only after he arrived in the Palestinian autonomy. Everybody is aware of Israel's attitude to Arafat: the Israeli government is doing its best to isolate Arafat and deprive him of all opportunities to affect political events. 

Justifying the goal of his visit to Arafat, Igor Ivanov stated: "We treat Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's opinion with respect, for he has done and is doing a lot for the development of relations between Russia and Israel. However, we respect the opinion of Prime Minister Abbas and other members of the Palestinian administration too - they believe that such contacts with Yasser Arafat are necessary, they also think that one should lift restrictions for his movement. We do not have any reasons not to take that opinion into our consideration."

Ivanov had two separate meetings with Abbas and Arafat on account of the recent scandal. Last week, Arafat accused Abbas of betraying the interests of the Palestinian nation. In his turn, Abbas claimed, he would resign from the position of the Palestinian prime minister. Therefore, it is hard to say, if the Russian foreign minister's visit to Palestine will be a success. On the other hand, Russia is taking part in the implementation of the road map project together with the EU, the USA and the UN. The project implies the cessation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the creation of the independent Palestinian state. Since Yasser Arafat is the head of the Palestinian autonomy, one has to take account of his opinion, even if Israel is against it.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not sitting on his hands either. On Sunday, he left for a visit to Great Britain. Observers believe, Sharon will actively lobby the idea of Arafat's further isolation. In an interview to British newspapers, Ariel Sharon warned Western leaders against maintaining contacts with Yasser Arafat. Sharon stated, each step like that would be an obstacle on the road to peace "because of Arafat's relentless efforts to undermine the process and Abu Mazen." Abu Mazen is the nom-de-guerre of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas.

Nevertheless, the most important question does not have an answer still - will the road map will be realized, if Arafat is isolated?  Apparently, the problem is not about Yasser Arafat alone.

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