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Danny Naveh, Likud party
"We hope to... get back to the negotiating table"
 real 56k

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer,Israeli Defence Minister
"I am ready to stop everything"
 real 56k

Friday, 27 April, 2001, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Israeli minister offers Arafat olive branch
Binyamin Ben Eliezer
Ben Eliezer is not popular among Palestinians
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner in Jerusalem

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer has said he plans to soon open Israel's borders to tens of thousands of Palestinian workers.

Speaking in a BBC interview, Mr Ben Eliezer also urged the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make efforts to stop the violence.

Palestinian youths on a protest march
Ben Eliezers says he will allow Palestinians to cross into Israel to work
Mr Ben Eliezer is not a man whom most Palestinians view with great affection.

As a former Israeli general and now as defence minister, he represents the might of the army that confronts them.

But now he appears to be offering the Palestinians an olive branch, saying he wanted most Palestinians to know that they were not his enemy.

He said he wanted to do all he could to make their lives easier and would soon be allowing tens of thousands of Palestinians to cross into Israel to work.

'Strong leader'

The Israeli defence minister said he was sure Mr Arafat was trying to find a way for Arabs and Israelis to live together.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat: Urged to end violence
He noted that when Mr Arafat had ordered a stop to the mortaring of Israeli houses, it had indeed stopped. Mr Arafat, he said, was a strong leader.

This is all a far cry from the vilification of Yasser Arafat that has been commonplace amongst Israeli officials and their public alike.

It reflects, perhaps, a realisation in the hardline Israeli Government that Mr Arafat is someone that Israel has got to keep talking to.

Over the next few days, Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, is due to discuss a tentative Arab peace plan with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders before travelling to Washington.

Nobody is holding out any great hopes of a breakthrough, but at least for now there is a semblance of an Arab-Israeli dialogue.

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