Aznar to Haaretz: Isolating Arafat Is Not the Solution

MADRID - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar believes that isolating Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is "not the solution," and rejects Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's boycott on any leader who visits Arafat in the Muqata.

In an exclusive interview with Haaretz from the Prime Minister's Palace in Madrid, Aznar says official visits of Spanish representatives to the Muqata will continue, adding that "whoever turned Arafat into a problem must explain to us what the solution to this problem is. If he does not do so, the problem will continue. Isolating Arafat is, in any case, not the solution."

When asked if he believes Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he talks of evacuating settlements and establishing a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity, Aznar says: "Sharon accepted the road map and he, therefore, has to fully implement it. The credibility of his government relies on this."

When asked whether Sharon is obliged to act instead of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), "the chick without feathers," still incapable of acting on his own, Aznar says: "I recognize the difficulties facing a leader who must provide security to his citizens and who is suddenly required to restrain his actions. However, if Sharon continues to argue that he must act instead of Abu Mazen, it will be very difficult to move forward."

Aznar - a "new European," darling of the U.S. administration and considered to be one of the big winners from the war in Iraq - is apparently one of the natural allies of Israel.

He declares that he "supports the closest possible relations with Israel." However, his comments are accompanied by a list of statements that suggest the term "new Europe" does not always apply when the Middle East is involved.

Aznar creates a disturbing linkage, at least from the point of view of the government of Israel, between the war in Iraq and the peace process in the Middle East: "From my point of view, there is a direct link between the war in the Gulf in 1990 to the war in Iraq in 2003 and, similarly, there is a direct link between the war in Iraq to the road map.

"The map would not have been accepted without a solution to the crisis in Iraq and therefore the importance which I see in relating the two subjects: the Iraqi people were given hope regarding the establishment of democracy and freedoms. The hope found in the implementation of the road map is perhaps even greater since its implications do not only touch Israel and the Palestinians but also the stability of the whole region."

Aznar vehemently decries the terrorist attack last week in Jerusalem, but he is also critical of the attempt on the life of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas official, and the policy of assassinations: "These are inappropriate decisions. It is necessary to assist Abu Mazen to get control of the situation," Aznar says.

The full interview with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar will appear Monday.