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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?