Editorial: Arafat’s presence ‘useful’ in talks

After holding a three-hour meeting with Yasser Arafat that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell described as “useful and constructive,” Powell agreed with a demand from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Arafat not be allowed entrance to a proposed conference about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is an absurd exclusion that should be reconsidered. If Arafat truly is “useful,” his presence should be mandatory at such a conference.Sharon insists that Arafat not be included in future talks because he does not trust him. Powell reasons that Arafat can appoint others to attend in his place. However, if the conference is “a way to get the parties together and talking,” why would he agree to excluding a person who most effectively represents half of the problem?

Talks have been yielding little in the past few days as Powell spoke with Sharon, Arafat and leaders in Lebanon and Syria. The leaders of these nations and groups are very static in their stances in this current conflict, and none seem willing to bend or ease their stance or action in Israel.

Powell has been doing a good job of promoting discourse, but it is a serious defeat and mistake not to allow Arafat to attend a conference meant to promote discussion and possibly cease-fires or even peace.

Powell must help the Palestinians be properly represented by allowing their prominent and appointed leader to attend.

In such a situation, it is imperative that the two people most able to affect and implement changes toward peace personally attend. Otherwise, Palestinians will think they are not fairly represented or given an equal opportunity to argue their case and agreeably negotiate an end to the violence. Powell should stand by his comments that Arafat’s talks were “useful.” In addition, Sharon should realize that Israel’s situation is not one-sided, and Arafat’s presence is needed to effectively broker peace.