[A-List] Britain/US split: Israel, Palestine
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 4 01:31:41 MST 2002
Blair courts controversy to meet new Israeli leader
Jonathan Steele and Ewen MacAskill
Wednesday December 4, 2002
Tony Blair is to risk the accusation of interfering in Israeli domestic
politics by inviting Amram Mitzna, the leftwing challenger in next month's
prime ministerial election, to Downing Street.
Mr Mitzna's spokesman, On Levey, told the Guardian that although no date had
been fixed the meeting would probably be this month. The two men have not
The diplomatic tradition is that leaders neither say anything, not take any
action, which could influence elections in other countries. By extending an
invitation to the leader of the Israeli opposition, Mr Blair is in danger of
incurring the wrath of the prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
Mr Mitzna, a former general who advocates a unilateral Is raeli withdrawal
from Gaza and early peace talks with the Palestinians, was elected leader of
the Labour party in hotly contested primaries last month. He will have a
struggle to erode Mr Sharon's commanding lead in the poll.
The invitation is intended to help build up Mr Mitzna's international
profile. The government's public position is to maintain good relations with
Mr Sharon but in private there it has shown growing dismay at his aggressive
tactics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and his failure to enter the peace
Downing Street can claim a precedent: Mr Blair met the then Labour leader,
Ehud Barak, when he was in opposition before the 1999 election, which he
subsequently won. It could also pass it off as a meeting to improve
fraternal relations between Labour parties.
Mr Mitzna is expected to make a major speech in London visit, his spokesman
said, adding: "It will be a friendly visit for the two men to get to know
each other and exchange ideas."
Mr Mitzna's aides confirm that they have not approached the White House
about a visit to Washington, nor has there been any invitation. President
George Bush maintains strong links with Mr Sharon.
Mr Mitzna's is the second important Middle East visit to Downing Street due
In a fortnight Mr Blair see the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, it was
announced last night.
When they met in Damascus in November last year Mr Blair got a dressing down
at a joint press conference. He stood by stoically as Mr Assad accused
Israel of state terrorism, attacked the US for bombing Afghan civilians and
accused the west of double-standards, being unable to distinguish between
the Palestinian right to self-defence and terrorism.
Mr Blair is not the only foreign leader who has been wondering how to help
Mr Mitzna and, thereby, advance the stalled peace process in the Middle East
without risking the wrath of Mr Sharon, or appearing to take sides.
The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has also been toying with the idea of
an invitation to Mr Mitzna, sources in the Israeli peace movement said
"Egyptian representatives have approached us to ask whether an invitation
for Mitzna to come to Cairo would help or harm,' one said.
Other have been discussing whether a peace initiatives on the eve of the
election might be distorted by Mr Sharon.
The former deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin, who was deeply involved in
the Oslo peace process, has been quietly working with Yasser Abed Rabbo, the
Palestinian minister for information.
At conferences in Europe they have been completing the draft of an
"alternative" peace plan, comprising dozens of pages of detailed proposals
for all aspects of a comprehensive settlement, including the borders of
Jerusalem and jurisdiction over the city.
Mr Beilin had been discussing whether to reveal the plan in London soon with
Mr Rabbo and other Israeli and Palestinian representatives, under the
auspices of the Foreign Office, but they have decided to wait until after
the Israeli elections.
Asked whether Mr Sharon's people could misinterpret and manipulate it, Mr
Beilin said: "Among other things, yes."
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