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 unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London