Yasser Arafat and John Major yesterday called on the new right-wing Israeli prime minister to have the bravery to pursue the Middle East peace process and resume Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank this month.
The Palestinian leader, making his first public appearance since the Israeli election, was talking to reporters in Downing Street after a one- hour conversation with the Prime Minister.
Mr Major invited the new Israeli premier, Binyamin Netanyahu, who won last week's election by a hair's breadth, to come to London. But he also urged him to respect the peace accords and, in particular, to withdraw as planned from Hebron, the last large Palestinian town under Jewish control.
Israeli withdrawal from Hebron was postponed because of the election until 12 June. But the Likud leader has spoken of maintaining control of the city for several years. The decision is seen as one of the key early indicators of Mr Netanyahu's intentions: will he pursue the hard line taken during the election campaign or the more compromising attitude implied by some of his post-victory statements?
Mr Arafat urged Mr Netanyahu to respect the withdrawal date and his comments were endorsed by Mr Major. The Prime Minister also called on the Israelis to lift restrictions on movement between the West Bank and Gaza.
Asked what message he would like to send to Mr Netanyahu, Mr Arafat said: "To continue the peace process, the peace of the brave which we have signed with my partners, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres."
"We are committed to the peace process. We are committed to what has been signed and we hope that the others will be committed equally like us.
"We respect the democratic choice of the Israeli people in the last election and we all hope we will continue the peace process with them."
Mr Arafat thanked Britain "from the bottom of my heart" for its help in promoting a Middle East settlement so far. He made a thinly disguised call to London, and the rest of the international community, to bring pressure on the new hard-line Israeli administration to pursue the efforts begun in Oslo in 1993.
Earlier, after meeting Members of Parliament, Mr Arafat said the Israeli- Palestinian rapprochement was facing a "new challenge." "Can we protect it or not? I can't forget that my partner, Yitzhak Rabin, has lost his life for the peace ..."
Despite reports that the Palestinian President had been severely jolted by the election result, MPs found him in ebullient mood. Labour MP Ernie Ross, who chairs a parliamentary group on Palestine, said: "He was in an effervescent mood. He was in no way depressed or downhearted."
Hebron fears worst, page 10
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