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Israeli FM Benjamin Netanyahu Urges Change in Palestinian Leadership - 2002-12-19

Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said talks on Palestinian reform were pointless while Yasser Arafat continues to be the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Netanyahu was speaking in Rome, the first stop of a four-capital European tour that will also take him to London, Paris and Moscow.

The Israeli foreign minister is on a mission to convince European leaders that the Palestinians need a change in leadership. Speaking in Rome, he lashed out against saying Yasser Arafat saying he is no less a terrorist than bin Laden.

Following a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Mr. Netanyahu said there is "no difference between Arafat and bin Laden and other terrorist leaders except one: that Arafat is a bin Laden with good public relations, especially in Europe."

Mr. Netanyahu, who is on his first tour of Europe as foreign minister, said that Washington's view is that anyone involved in terror is not a legitimate partner for peace. He said this awareness is starting to take hold in certain parts of Europe, including Italy.

Yasser Arafat has visited Rome on a number of occasions to meet Italian politicians and Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. In the past he has come to drum up economic support for the Palestinian people.

The Israeli foreign minister will be in London on Friday where he is to meet the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Britain has invited Palestinian leaders to London in January for a conference with Middle East mediators to discuss progress on reform.

Mr. Netanyahu said he is interested in learning whether Britain plans to discuss changes to the Palestinian economy and education system. "This would be a welcome thing," he added, but not under the leadership of Yasser Arafat.

The Israeli foreign minister compared the Palestinian areas to Iraq, saying both needed a regime change, economic reconstruction and the creation of a freely elected leadership.

Israel blames Mr. Arafat for Palestinian militant attacks and refuses to negotiate with him.