Skip to comments.Italy's Berlusconi urges Arafat to quit
Posted on 06/27/2002 11:26:03 AM PDT by HAL9000
KANANASKIS, Alberta, June 27 (Reuters) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should book himself a place in history and stand down, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Thursday, backing a U.S. call for a change in Palestinian leadership.
Berlusconi, who has forged close ties with the Arab world since taking office last year, told reporters the international community was ready to help Palestinians as long as they set up a transparent democracy.
"Many people are convinced that Arafat, a winner of the Nobel peace prize, should make a generous gesture and move aside," Berlusconi said on the final morning of a two day meeting of major power leaders.
"If I were President Arafat I would make a grand gesture that would enable him to go down forever in history as the man who gave everything for the freedom of his country," he said.
U.S. President George W. Bush told Palestinians earlier this week that they must pick new leaders "not compromised by terror" as a precondition to setting up a Palestinian state.
Berlusconi said the move had "basically de-legitimised the current Palestinian leadership", rendering pointless calls from some quarters, including French President Jacques Chirac, for an international Middle East Peace conference, he added.
G8 leaders discussed the Israeli-Palestinian crisis over supper on Wednesday night and Berlusconi said no-one had lined up against Bush, although Chirac had "insisted" on the need for a new peace conference.
He told reporters that the leaders had discussed the possibility of Arafat winning a fresh mandate in elections slated for January 2003, but had not come to any conclusions.
"There might be some probability of success (if) Palestinian people realise there is a huge line up of world forces ready to help concretely and in a massive fashion...if they plant on that territory a real, transparent democracy," he said.
He added that there were well-founded suspicions the current Palestinian leadership was corrupt and backed terror groups.
Asked if wealthy nations would halt all aid to Palestinians if Arafat were re-elected, Berlusconi said: "Our discussions did not get that far."
He also left the door open to Arafat staying in power, saying Bush never mentioned the Palestinian leader by name, and indicating that the problem could lie with Arafat's entourage rather than the Palestinian president himself.
Berlusconi has presented himself as a possible mediator in the Middle East crisis and offered last month to host a peace summit in Italy. "Events have obviously moved on since then," he said on Thursday.
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