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Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 17:22 GMT
London conference splits Mid-East media
As talks on the reform of the Palestinian administration began in London at the initiative of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the media in Israel and the Palestinian territories have expressed division over their prospects.
While the Palestinian media reflects anger at the Israelis for barring the Palestinian delegation from attending the talks, Israeli papers are at odds over the government's travel ban.
The Israeli press is also divided over the British decision to host the conference at a time when violence in the territories is continuing.
A commentator in the Israeli liberal daily Ha'aretz describes the decision to bar Palestinian delegates from going to London as a "punishment" of the Palestinians.
"What is quite clear is that the Palestinians are again becoming dependent on Israeli licences and permits. In other words, Israeli military government is returning by the back door."
A Ha'aretz editorial argues that the conference sponsor, Mr Blair, "has more than once proven his friendship for Israel".
It adds: "He deserved to be treated more generously and less crudely by the government of Israel."
However, writing in Ma'ariv, Dror Zeigerman, a former Israeli ambassador to Britain, criticizes Mr Blair for his "ignorance of Israeli politics" and Britain's "intervention" in the Israeli elections.
"There is no reason for [Israel] to respond to the British request for a gesture that will enable the Palestinian delegation to leave for the London conference," he says.
"The fear that this will harm diplomatic relations between the two countries is exaggerated.@
The Jerusalem-based Arabic-language Al-Quds accuses Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of using the Tel Aviv suicide bombings on 5 January as a "pretext" to "abort" the conference.
"Israel's bizarre and unjustified position has not only harmed the PNA but also the British government - the first to help the Jews to establish the state of Israel," it argues.
"Perhaps the true reason behind the Israeli Government's thoughtlessness was not linked to the bombings as much as with the Israeli government's strategy to frustrate any substantive effort aimed at bringing the peace process out of the deep freeze, where Sharon's government has put it since it assumed power two years ago. "
The right-wing Israeli paper Hatzofe welcomes the Palestinian travel ban as deserving "praise and support".
"Self-righteous, hypocritical Britain knows that all the meetings with Palestinian officials have no value and that they only legitimise the continuation of terrorism," it says.
"With its deeds, Britain wants to signal to the Islamic terrorist organisations that it, in fact, supports them, and for this reason they should not consider it a target for terrorist attacks."
A commentary in Hatzofe describes the conference as "dubious", adding "HM's government is flabbergasted and excited" over the travel ban.
However, a commentator in Yediot Aharonot fears the decision will "disturb our relations with the Europeans".
It says: "Israel embarked on a series of mistakes. On one hand, it was claimed that Israeli representatives should have been invited, though this would have caused the failure of the conference before it started. On the other, it was claimed that the conference was pointless because Arafat chose the Palestinian representatives."
Voice of Palestine radio quoted Local Government Minister Sa'ib Urayqat, one of those barred by Israel, as hoping those at the London conference would "raise their voices high and tell Sharon's government 'enough' ".
Mr Urayqat urged the conference to openly acknowledge that "Israel has deliberately sought to destroy the conference and is going too far by persisting in the policy of assassination, destruction, terrorism, killing children, and occupation".
Mr Urayqat added that the Palestinians did not need a conference that "merely talks about reform without addressing Israel's measures aimed at destroying, obstructing elections, and preventing citizens from travelling".
Voice of Palestine also quoted the Palestinian envoy to Britain, Afif Safiyah, as saying the conference "represents a British message to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he has no right to veto international efforts".
Speaking on Egyptian radio, Mr Safiyah said: "Today, we will talk in great detail about the Israeli obstacles impeding reforms and the building of the Palestinian state. For instance, Israel has so far withheld all the taxes collected on our behalf. It uses those funds to blackmail us."
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
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