by RAY FLEMING “Irrelevant” is a word we hear less of nowadays than we did earlier this year when Washington used it often to describe the United Nations, and the Israelis and the Americans to categorise Yassir Arafat. Last week, within a couple of days, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had to made conciliatory approaches to the UN and ask Yassir Arafat to help break the stalemate over the “road-map” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat is certainly not “irrelevant” although yesterday the Israeli Defence Minister said that he should be exiled “in a relatively short space of time, possibly even this year”. This is not official Israeli policy, but the threat cannot be ignored. It was countered strongly on behalf of the European Union by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, during a visit to Israel where he met the Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom; Sr Solana said that he did not believe cutting links with Mr Arafat would contribute to the solution of present difficulties over the road-map. The efforts made three months ago by the United States and Israel to move Yassir Arafat into the background have been totally counter-productive, as some observers predicted they would be. They completely overlooked the loyalty that the Palestinian people feel towards Mr Arafat and the fact that he is an elected President. The attempt to give total authority to prime minister Mahmoud Abbas was naive and ill-considered; Mr Arafat has not retained the leadership of the Palestinian people for more than 30 years without learning how to look after himself. If President Bush intends to keep his promise to focus on the Israel/Palestinian problem he should do so knowing that President Arafat must be taken into account, not crudely ignored and insulted.

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