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Sharon's stroke prompts peace-process fears

The health of Ariel Sharon is dominating world headlines Keystone

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger has conveyed Switzerland's sympathy to Israel after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a second major stroke.

This content was published on January 5, 2006 - 21:06

With Sharon critically ill in hospital, observers fear for the future of the Middle East peace process and do not hold out much hope for an improvement in recently soured Swiss-Israeli relations.

Leuenberger sent Sharon a telegram on Thursday wishing him a speedy recovery after emergency surgery.

"The Swiss government and the Swiss people share the worries of the Israeli people and government about the state of your health," the telegram read.

But with elections in Israel due to take place in March, analysts believe Sharon's plans to withdraw settlers from the West Bank and push ahead with peace negotiations will be put on hold.

Pascal de Crousaz, a Swiss expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations, fears the peace process will suffer a setback if Sharon dies or is forced to retire from politics.

"Sharon also has a plan for disengagement from the West Bank with an Israeli withdrawal from 80 per cent of the territory," he told swissinfo.

"This would be a step towards peace that only Sharon seems capable of taking. Who apart from him can persuade the Israelis to make minimal concessions to promote peace?

"Sharon's unilateral efforts could have led to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Without him that seems less likely than ever."

Trust in Sharon

Victor Kocher, a Middle East-based correspondent with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, believes Sharon is the only person Israelis trust to push forward controversial plans - despite Palestinian reticence over giving up weapons.

"Israel has said it will not negotiate with the Palestinians until they dismantle terror organisations and collect illegal arms. Sharon is the only person who could be expected to renounce that veto," Kocher told swissinfo.

"He is considered by the Israeli people as a person who is able to guarantee security because of his military background. That's why he was able to push through the Israeli withdrawal of the Gaza Strip.

"There is no other heavyweight security politician around who could do what Sharon has done."

Swiss-Israeli ties

Kocher does not think Sharon's withdrawal from the Israeli political scene would affect Swiss-Israeli relations.

Sharon has in the past dismissed the Swiss-backed Geneva Accord, which was published in 2003 as an alternative Middle East peace plan, as "dangerous".

And Swiss objections to the so-called security barrier dividing Israel from the Palestinian territories have further inflamed diplomatic relations.

Kocher dismissed the idea that the Geneva Accord could be resurrected if Sharon plays no further part in Israeli politics.

"I think it is important that Switzerland speaks out to remind Israel of the terms of international law that should be a landmark for what a peace deal should look like," he said.

"But if the peace process does move ahead in the future it is not going to be on the terms the Swiss government is suggesting. I expect any future Israeli governments will be even tougher than Sharon was.

"The only hope for Swiss-Israeli relations is that people get used to the idea that they have to agree to disagree."

swissinfo

Key facts

Sharon suffered a minor stroke on December 18, but left hospital two days later.
He suffered a second, more serious, stroke on Wednesday, the day before he was due to have surgery on a hole in the heart.
Sharon has been Prime Minister of Israel since 2001, but split from the Likud party to form his own Kadima party in 2005. He planned to stand for re-election this March.

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