Arafat flies the flag on first visit to Britain: Historic meeting launches busy two-day schedule

PALESTINE may not be a state yet, and there are those who hope it never will be. But yesterday political and civic leaders in Britain welcomed the man who has become identified in the public imagination as the embodiment of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.

Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, has clocked up more air-miles than a jumbo-jet pilot going from capital to capital, feted in most, cold-shouldered in Damascus and drawing criticism from his own people for not spending more time on the difficult negotiations with the Israelis. But he has never been to London before.

So there was an appropriately festive spirit. Among all the seasonal fairy lights and Christmas trees, a red, white, green and black Palestinian flag fluttered from atop the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, where he was staying, just up from the menorah erected for the Jewish festival of lights, Hannukah. Even the Jaguar XJ6 that whisked him to his first call on Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, flew the Palestinian flag.

It was an especially symbolic meeting. In 1917 a predecessor of Mr Hurd, Arthur Balfour, made the commitment to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which was shortly to be governed by Britain under a League of Nations mandate. This led to the creation of the state of Israel and the dispersal of the Palestinian people.

Other guests at Mr Hurd's lunch were the ambassadors of Egypt, Israel and the United States, and leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Mr Arafat's was a busy schedule: after lunch he attended Prime Minister's Question Time at the House of Commons, then went to address the All-Party Middle East Council at Westminster. There he appeared in olive-green battle fatigues and his trademark chequered keffiyeh headscarf. It was a subdued Arafat coming keffiyeh-in- hand, so to speak, to solicit aid. He said Britain had a moral and political responsibility in Palestine, and appealed for help in establishing the basic infrastructure in the Palestinian entity. He said he had already asked Mr Hurd to help re-establish two police training schools, one in Bethlehem, one in the Gaza Strip, once they were reopened by the Israelis.

He then met John Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, and went to a reception at the Egyptian embassy (Israelis not invited); and meetings with the Islamic Council for Palestine and the Council for Middle East Trade. Today he is due to call on church and Jewish leaders, and the Prime Minister. Mr Arafat's wife, Suha, is accompanying him.

Yet for all the pomp, the circumstances of his visit are more ominous. Hopes of Mr Arafat's imminent triumphal return to Palestine have received a setback in recent days. Differences with Israel on key aspects of security in the occupied territories, from which Israel is set to withdraw, have widened.

However, Mr Arafat was upbeat. 'Where there is a will there is a way,' he repeated. 'We are committed to the peace process.' Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, had given his 'parole d'honneur'.

The best solution, he said, was for him and Mr Rabin to be locked up in a room 'till the white smoke appears'.

In Dublin - where Mr Arafat is to make his first official visit to Ireland tomorrow - the government yesterday approved the establishment of an Israeli embassy and also invited the PLO to set up a delegation, officials said.

Suha Arafat interview, page 21

(Photograph omitted)

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

KS2 Teacher

£105 - £120 per day + Expenses: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randstad Educat...

German & French Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week