The European Union has reiterated its support for embattled Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, telling Israel that Mr. Arafat must be seen as a partner in both the war on terrorism and the search for Middle East peace. EU foreign ministers are also insisting that Mr. Arafat do more to curb terrorists, and that Israel withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas.
The EU has little clout in the Middle East, because Israel considers it to be pro-Arab. But as the United States expresses growing frustration with Mr. Arafat, the Europeans are privately expressing fear the Bush administration may cut off U.S. links to the Palestinians and suspend its efforts to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
In the face of Israeli statements that the veteran Palestinian leader has become irrelevant, the EU has again expressed backing for Mr. Arafat as an essential player in the Middle East equation, saying the only alternative to the Palestinian Authority is Palestinian anarchy.
The message was delivered Monday by Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. "Israel needs the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat, as a partner to negotiate with, both in order to eradicate terrorism and to work toward peace. Their capacity to fight terrorism must not be weakened," said Mr. Pique, reading a joint statement adopted by all of the EU's 15 members.
But Mr. Pique says Mr. Arafat also has a responsibility to act against terrorists. "The Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat, must do everything to put an end to terrorism and the armed intifada (uprising), dismantle all the terrorist networks and arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of terrorist acts," he said.
The EU is also reiterating its call on Israel to withdraw its military forces from Palestinian areas, stop its extra-judicial killings in the West Bank and Gaza, end its economic blockade of the Palestinians and, finally, freeze all Jewish settlements.
Mr. Pique says he has sent a letter to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres complaining about Israel's damage to EU-funded infrastructure projects in Palestinian areas. He says the EU reserves the right to demand compensation from Israel for $15 million worth of damages. But diplomats say it will probably not make any such move for now. Israel says it targeted the facilities built with EU money for security reasons.