The Palestinian leader again not permitted to Bethlehem
Within the whole last week, the Israeli Foreign Ministry head, Benyamin Netanyahu was travelling over Europe, where he tried to enlist the support of Rome, Paris, London in the case of political isolation of Palestinian leader Yassir Araft.
Arafat is bin Laden with good PR, especially in Europe, Netanyahu said in Rome. According to the Israeli foreign minister, in some European countries, including Italy, the understanding grows that “people involved in terrorism cannot be rightful partners in the motion to peace.”
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi nodded in accord, though, to the Israeli hawk regret, he said nothing concrete. In Great Britain, the Netanyahu philippics also met no support. Even the joint conference of Netanyahu and Jack Straw, British foreign secretary, was cancelled: both sides’ positions differ so much, that demonstrating this fact before the public would cause a diplomatic scandal.
The last point of the Netanyahu European tour was Moscow. At the meeting with his Russian colleague Igor Ivanov, Netanyahu said: “There is any other nation, but Russians, who understand so deep the situation in Israel and the necessity to fight against terrorism.” Ivanov, in his tern, expressed his interest in development of the relationship between Israel and Russia on a stable and long-term base, for the sake of both countries and bettering the situation in the Middle East. So, an exchange of compliments, just that. Netanyahu hardly could account on something more from his Russian colleague Igor Ivanov.
Russia still supports Arafat however it is a bit reserved in its support, while recommending him to carry out administrative reforms in the autonomy. The conclusion is obvious: the first trip of Netanyahu as foreign minister has failed. Rome, London, Paris, Moscow are not ready to utilize the Palestinian leader, at least before next February.
In early February, the four international mediators intend to approve the plan of Middle-Eastern settlement. This was reported Monday by Igor Ivanov at the press conference which took place after his negotiations with Benyamin Netanyahu. According to Igor Ivanov, after the February meeting of the four foreign ministers, the plan of Middle-Eastern settlement, so-called “road-map,” will be presented to Israel and Palestine. The “road-map” aim, Ivanov stressed, is achievement of peace and security for Israel and Palestine.
Though, what was not achieved at the international level (the Arafat political isolation), perfectly works at the local level. Arafat is again not permitted to Bethlehem. On the threshold of coming Christmas, Israelis withdrew their forces from the centre of Bethlehem (the West Bank), including the streets adjacent to Christmas Church. Soldiers remain in the outskirts and continue patrolling the streets. Israeli Army is informed it will not occupy the city at Christmas night if there is no information about some threat going out from there.
Bethlehem, which is usually filled with people, is now empty, shops are closed, and only in the central square of the city, Christmas decorations could be seen. Israeli radio reports Israeli Christians could visit holiday actions only in organized groups. While Arabs living in Palestine territories must have a permission from Israeli military authorities to enter the city. In the meanwhile, Israelis have not allowed to Yassir Araft to visit Bethlehem for participation in Christmas divine service at which he traditionally attended. Today’s events practically fully repeat the last-year situation: Israelis left the city, while Arafat is not permitted to attend at the Christmas mass (Arafat pilgrimaged to Bethlehem every Christmas, since 1995). The frenzied Arafat declared he would celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem whatever would happen, if even he would be forced to go to Bethlehem from Ramallah on foot. Last year, Arafat was dissuaded from pilgrimage, however almost the whole Europe supported Arafat, even John Paul II asked for Arafat, though, Christmas was over, and the story was forgotten. So, what will the rais invent this year?
Translated by Vera Solovieva