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Peres Welcomes Arafat's Promise - 2002-02-04

At the World Economic Forum meeting in New York, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres Sunday welcomed Yasser Arafat's promise, in an article in the New York Times, to halt Palestinian terrorism. The Israeli foreign minister said the commitment offers a ray of hope in the otherwise bleak relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Peres called Mr. Arafat's pledge, if he does as he says, a good beginning. He told the economic forum that this is the first time in 16 months of escalating violence that Mr. Arafat has expressed a commitment to discuss key issues that divide Palestinians and Israelis and put an end to terrorism against Israeli civilians. The Israeli army for two months has kept Mr. Arafat under virtual house arrest and prevented him from traveling. Until this year the Palestinian leader has been a regular attendee at the World Economic Forum.

Mr. Peres told the forum that renewed talks with the Palestinians could lead to a cease fire and Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state. "I think the pressure today upon Arafat to change his policies, to take seriously the call to end terror, is an effective one," he says. "I think the greatest achievement of Arafat, in his own eyes, is his legitimacy in western eyes. And he knows that he is endangering his legitimacy if he can not really function as he has promised. And I think the article in the New York Times is an additional commitment."

Jordan's King Abdullah, in addressing the forum, called for immediate western engagement to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table. He called the continuing violence very dangerous and said both parties must be steered away from the brink of disaster. King Abdullah said peace in the region requires justice and security.

Referring to accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, the Jordanian monarch said Islam is damaged by terrorists and self-appointed religious zealots. He said they do not in any way represent Islam. He said they pretend to speak for the poor and displaced but their aim is political power.