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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 11:22 GMT
Arafat fails to win over Israel
Yasser Arafat during his TV address
Some commentators described the address as a "joke"
Tarik Kafala

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said pretty much all that could be expected of him in an address to his people to mark the end of Ramadan.

He called for an end to attacks on Israeli targets, inside Israel and in the Palestinian territories.

Suicide bombings were again condemned. Mr Arafat said such acts were against the Palestinian national interest and played into the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We will punish all planners and executors of attacks... and we will hunt down the violators," Mr Arafat said.

Palestinian policeman leave office of an Islamic Association in Gaza
Yasser Arafat has yet to convince Israel that his actions against militants are genuine

He added that the Palestinian Authority "will only allow one authority on this land".

Reaction to Mr Arafat's speech in Israel was mixed. Mr Sharon has made no response, in line with his assertion last week that the Palestinian leader was no longer "relevant".

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Mr Sharon, said: "Don't make declarations. Start making arrests, start doing what you promised. He has to dismantle the suicide bombers' assembly line."

Members of Mr Sharon's Likud party are quoted in the Israeli press describing the speech as a "joke" and an attempt only to preserve Mr Arafat's authority.

Mr Arafat may be feeling a little hard done by. For weeks Israeli officials have been calling for him to make an unambiguous statement, in Arabic and to his people, against Palestinian attacks.

'Promising'

He has done so, and is not being thanked for it by anyone in the Israeli Government.

There are some voices welcoming the speech in Israel.

One of the leading dailies, Haaretz, called it Mr Arafat's "strongest ever call for and end to violence".

Yossi Beilin, a veteran Israeli left-winger and current parliamentary opposition leader, said that the speech was promising.

Wreckage of a bombed bus in the Israeli city of Haifa
The Israelis say words are not enough

"To help him against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Israel should start lifting the siege and closures and checkpoints and stop the collective punishment. This is the time to put him to the test," Mr Beilin said.

International reaction was more positive. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Mr Arafat "spoke constructive words, but what's important is that they be followed up by concrete action".

UN Middle East envoy, Terje Roed Larsen, said the speech was one of the most important Mr Arafat had ever given and marked a potential turning point in the search for peace.

'Opportunity for Israel'

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said Mr Arafat's speech "represents an opportunity that Israel should respond to and start peace talks with the Palestinian Authority."

At the moment these more positive reactions are Mr Arafat's only refuge.

As long as the international community, most importantly Washington and the European Union, still recognise him as the leader of the Palestinians, Mr Arafat can at least claim to remain relevant.

See also:

16 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat pleads for talks with Israel
16 Dec 01 | Middle East
Palestinian police shut out militants
14 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Sharon's strategy
14 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: End of the road for Arafat?
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