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Press ponders future without Arafat

As elsewhere, Switzerland's press focused on Yasser Arafat's death and its consequences swissinfo.ch

One day after the death of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, the Swiss press are warning that the Middle East faces a major political test.

This content was published on November 12, 2004 - 08:00

Most newspapers have focused on how the peace process may get under way once again.

Arafat died on Thursday aged 75 in a Paris hospital. A military funeral was held in Egypt and Arafat's body has since returned to Ramallah for burial.

Zurich’s “Tages Anzeiger” summed up the effects of Arafat’s death in its headline - “The moment of truth”.

Most newspapers agree that if Arafat was an obstacle to peace, then a roadblock has now been lifted.

For the French-language “Tribune de Genève”, the Palestinian leader was a major Arab figure who had fought for an independent state, but who had also accepted the existence of Israel. His death, the Geneva paper wrote, only gave extra meaning to his fight.

The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” (NZZ) said that despite becoming “Mr Palestine” for the Western media, Arafat’s career was littered with political and military defeats.

It added that the Palestinian leader still embodied his people’s identity.

The “Tages-Anzeiger” wrote that the Palestinians must now seek a meaningful peace with Israel and refuse to be influenced by outsiders.

"It will be up to the United States and the Europeans to ensure a fair accord,” said the newspaper, since one party is weaker than the other.

Bern’s “Bund” doubts the Palestinians will be able to make the most of Arafat’s death. “Peace does have a chance, but it will take some time before it’s possible,” it wrote.

Israel

The “Basler Zeitung” warned that developments in the Occupied Territories would depend on the Israeli government, adding that prime minister Ariel Sharon must be prepared to strengthen the new Palestinian leadership by improving humanitarian conditions and restraining military operations.

And the French-language “Le Matin” wrote that the Israelis could hold the key to peace if they were prepared to make real concessions and to rein in their more extreme political elements.

Bern’s other major newspaper, the “Berner Zeitung”, said that Sharon has the opportunity to ensure peaceful co-habitation with the Palestinians. Arafat’s death means that he was not a martyr and that politics could now drive the process.

Neuchâtel’s “L’Express” points out that Sharon and President Bush, who have always accused Arafat of encouraging terrorism, have now lost their main justification for staying away from the negotiating table.

And Lausanne’s “24 Heures” warns that the Israelis will have to do more than pull out of Gaza to satisfy the Palestinians, unless they want to encourage further attacks from Palestinian extremists.

Finally, the French-language “Le Temps” says that Arafat’s death has deprived the Arab world of its only charismatic and recognisable leader.

For the man in the street, writes the paper, his successor could be a man with a turban and a long beard who spends his time hiding in caves in Pakistan and Afghanistan - Osama bin Laden.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Yasser Arafat was honoured by international dignitaries with a military funeral in Egypt on Friday.

The funeral started at 11am local time, with special prayers led by Egypt's top Muslim cleric.

After the funeral, Arafat's coffin was flown to the Sinai Peninsul. Two Jordanian helicopters are due carry it and the accompanying delegation to Ramallah in the West Bank.

Arafat should be buried before sunset.

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