Israel is playing an extremely dangerous game in its virtual imprisonment of Yassir Arafat. It requires only a stray shell or bullet to injure or kill him – with consequences that would be as damaging for Israel itself as for the whole fragile peace process. Israel has said that it is isolating the Palestinian president in retaliation for last week's suicide bombings at Tel Aviv and Umm al Fahm in which six people died. But the futility of Israel's tactics is shown by the fact that these bombings were carried out by Islamic Jihad and Hamas – two extremist groups which are most certainly not under Arafat's control and may actually be continuing terrorist missions in order to undermine what remains of his authority in order to prevent any possibility of a resumption of peace negotiations. The world's pre–occupation with Iraq suits Israel very well since it can do what it likes in the Palestinian territories without attracting the condemnation that it should be receiving. A White House statement yesterday said that Israel had “the right to defend itself against suicide bombings but must keep in mind the consequences of its actions”. The US Administration could hardly have said less; In Israel the statement will be taken as further evidence that Ariel Sharon can do what he likes. Will we ever hear a White House statement to the effect that the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves from armed invasions of their territories and the ritual humiliation of their elected leader?
Ray Fleming

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