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Palestinian Reform Talks End in London - 2003-01-14


Talks in London on Palestinian reforms have ended on what British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw calls a constructive and comprehensive note. The talks came off even though Israel barred several Palestinian delegates from traveling to London.

A video link from the West Bank and Gaza worked better than British diplomats had hoped and the Palestinian officials were able to participate fully in the London talks.

Israel prevented the Palestinians from going to London in response to a recent Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Israel was not invited to the London talks, which focused on political, economic and judicial reforms of the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he wishes Israel had let the Palestinians come to London.

"We regret the decision which they made in this particular case," he said. "But I hope that they are able to appreciate that this has been a constructive meeting and one which is as much in the interests of the people of Israel as it is Palestinians and the wider community."

One Palestinian who did participate in person was Afif Safieh, the Palestinian representative in Britain. Mr. Safieh rejected Israel's contention that Palestinian suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians are blocking peace efforts. He says he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is the main obstacle to peace.

"I told him: 'Prime Minister, terror is not the problem, it is territory which is the problem,'" he said. "And it is the Israeli territorial appetite that made the peace process of the last 10 or 12 years unconvincing."

The London conference also was attended by representatives of the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Greece.

Mr. Straw said an international task force on Palestinian reform will meet in London on February 10 to follow up on Tuesday's conference.

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