If Yassir Arafat is “irrelevant” to Israel, as prime minister Sharon has said he is, what were the Israeli tanks doing on Arafat's lawn in Ramallah yesterday, pointing their guns into his living room? Israel's Justice Minister has said that Israel has “no intention to get Arafat, to assassinate Arafat or to hurt him.” So that's all right, then. But what were the tanks doing?

It has become necessary whenever writing on this topic to make a statement that one condemns the violence and the killing by both sides. This I do. But this does not preclude the need to try to understand why such violence and killing are taking place and who is the more responsible for them. There is an assumption in so much comment that the Israelis are the victims and the Palestinians the aggressors yet there is no evidence to support this view at all. Each side is a victim and an aggressor, although many more Palestinian lives have been lost than Israeli. Of greater importance than counting bodies is an understanding of what has led to this situation - the occupation of Arab land by Israel, the ignoring of United Nations resolutions about this occupation, the plight of the refugees from it, and the illegal building of settlements on the land. The international community - even including the United States on occasion has roundly condemned Israel for its occupation and settlement policies yet somehow the bad guys turn out to be the ones who try to resist them.

If Israel is so confident of the rightness of its policies why does it so consistently refuse to accept the international observer team proposed by the European Union and welcomed by the Palestinians?

Ray Fleming

Planning EU's future

Belgium's occupancy of the European Union presidency for the past six months has inevitably been overshadow by international involvement in action against terrorism.

At the Laeken EU summit meeting today and tomorrow Belgium will therefore be anxious to show that despite other pre-occupations it has made progress on important issues. The principal agenda item for this meeting will be the proposals for a “Declaration of Laeken” on the future shape of the European Union, taking into account its gradual enlargement by 15 to 25 new members.

The Belgian draft on this issue proposes the creation of a Convention to facilitate wide-ranging consultation among all the countries and institutions of the EU, leading to the preparation of a plan for adoption in 2004. This open approach is in contrast to the “closed door” consultations which the French preferred prior to the much-criticised Nice Summit a year ago.

On the assumption that the Belgian proposal is broadly approved one of the key decisions of this Summit will be the choice of a chairman of the Convention.

The names of several of the “usual suspects” have already been mentioned but, clearly, this is an extremely important assignment and should not be given on the “buggin's turn” principle. There will be some tough bargaining in the corridors today and tomorrow.



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