‘No Arafat is no solution,’ Israel’s ex-FM

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said in Athens late Monday that it would be a mistake to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and that a step-by-step approach to Mideast peace should be dumped in favor of a one-off «earthquake» deal. «Arafat is not that popular. But expelling him or getting rid of him otherwise is not workable,» Ben-Ami said. «I don’t believe it’s a right policy. It’s counterproductive.» «The position of Sharon and the Israeli leadership is: Arafat first. I’m afraid it will have to be Arafat last. We need to come to terms with this odd reality in the Palestinian territories,» Ben-Ami said. «Today the situation is that the current Israeli government discards him, the American administration doesn’t want to talk to him, and nevertheless he continues to be the embodiment of the Palestinian cause,» he added. «If you had elections today in the Palestinian Authority, I guess he will be elected.» The 60-year-old Ben-Ami [in Athens to give a lecture at the Hellenic American Union on the Middle East peace process] served as Israel’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2001, in Ehud Barak’s Labor government, and was active in the US-sponsored peace talks at Camp David in 2000 which eventually collapsed. He gave up his seat in Parliament last year, angry at cooperation between his Labor Party and the Sharon government. Ben-Ami said he believed Arafat had accepted he made a mistake at Camp David and that he would now be willing to agree with the principles of a deal discussed then. «That’s what the Palestinians I speak with tell me,» he said. Ben-Ami described the current international peace plan – the «road map» – as the «best game in town» but said it lacked direction and was doomed to fail. «I don’t believe in small steps. We need to create some sort of earthquake,» he said. «Confidence building has to be dramatic. This process needs explosions, in the benign sense of the word.» He added: «This process is not about making love, it’s about making peace. Even if every Palestinian loves every Israeli, it would not be enough.» (AP)