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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 17:22 GMT
Israel says Arafat blocking peace plan
Binyamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu is finding Europeans hard to convince
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has said an international peace plan for the Middle East will fail unless there is a change in the Palestinian leadership.

He was speaking after talks with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov in Moscow - the final leg of a four-nation European tour aimed at persuading countries to sideline Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Last week Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations said they had made progress on the so-called road map for peace.

The present Palestinian leadership does not want to get to peace

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli foreign minister

Speaking at a joint news conference, Mr Netanyahu said: "No matter what road map is put before us, if the other driver doesn't want to get to peace, no road map will help".

"The present Palestinian leadership does not want to get to peace," he said.

The road map, which is still under discussion, envisages a three-stage plan which will lead to a Palestinian state by 2005.

Difficult task

The BBC's Russian affairs analyst, Stephen Dalziel, says Mr Netanyahu has had little success in drumming up support for his position in Rome, Paris and London - and he is unlikely to leave Moscow with everything he wants.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Jack Straw
Netanyahu and Straw did not see eye-to-eye

Mr Netanyahu regards Mr Arafat as a terrorist, and remains firmly opposed to the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

But while he knows that he can always find a sympathetic ear for his views in Washington, he has found the Europeans more difficult to convince.

It has even been suggested that a joint press conference he was due to hold in London with the UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was cancelled because the two sides were so far apart that public disagreement could have led to a diplomatic incident.

Russian interests

The BBC analyst says the Israeli foreign minister could not expect much more joy from his meeting with Mr Ivanov.

Russia still maintains cautious support for Mr Arafat, although it has called on him to reform the Palestinian administration.

Moscow is also not opposed to the idea of a separate Palestinian state.

In Soviet times, it was easy for Israel to dismiss Moscow's position as simply being anti-Israel.

But with about a quarter of the population of Israel now being former citizens of the Soviet Union, Moscow can justifiably claim to have serious interests on both sides of the Middle East divide.


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