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Sharon urged to seek peace

Ariel Sharon's election victory has received a negative response from Swiss commentators


Swiss commentators are fearful about the future of the Middle East peace process, following the landslide election of the right-wing Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, as Israel's new prime minister.

The Swiss government and Jewish organisations immediately called on Sharon to press ahead with peace talks with the Palestinians.

The foreign ministry urged the new leader to seek a solution to the conflict based on the United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel to withdraw its troops from the Occupied Territories and on other parties to recognise Israel's right to exist.

"We believe the UN resolutions are the only basis on which Sharon's government will find a solution to the problems at the origin of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," spokesman Livio Zanolari told swissinfo.

The Swiss Israel Association said it considered the progress made by Barak in talks with the Palestinians as the only possible basis for further negotiations.

During the election campaign, Sharon vowed to withdraw concessions promised by Barak, and the association said the next few weeks were certain to be decisive for the peace process.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities also urged Sharon to resume negotiations with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, but said it was not worried about the future.

Its president, Alfred Donath, said he was even hopeful that Sharon might be able to succeed where Barak failed.

"It was always when the right was in power that the peace process went furthest. It was Begin who made peace with Egypt," he told swissinfo. "I think Sharon will make many more concessions than the image he has would suggest and despite what he said during the campaign."

Analysts writing in the Swiss press agree that the result was a vote against the outgoing leader, Ehud Barak, rather than an expression of confidence in Sharon.

"The outcome is a sign of the deep divisions within Israeli society," says the Bern-based daily, Der Bund.

It says that parliament is itself so divided that Sharon will find it hard to put together a viable coalition, and will probably find it as impossible as his two predecessors to complete his four-year term of office.

Other commentators focused more on Sharon's controversial personality. They highlight the leading role he has played in encouraging Jews to settle in the West Bank and Gaza.

The future of the settlements is now one of the main hurdles in the search for a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians.

The Basler Zeitung described Sharon as "yesterday's man, who has been more concerned with war than peace".

The daily recalled his record as defence minister, when a Lebanese militia fighting alongside Israeli troops during the 1982 invasion massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees.

It noted that he had voted against every peace accord put before parliament, including the settlement with Egypt. But the newspaper also remarks that he was the man who forcefully cleared Jewish settlers from the Sinai before the territory was handed back to Cairo.

"It remains to be seen which Sharon will lead Israel's government in these stormy times - Sharon the hawk and ideologist or Sharon the pragmatist," the paper says.

The main French-language daily, Le Temps, writes: "Months of increased violence can be expected as a result of Sharon's election. The new government will use force to tame the Palestinians."

But the newspaper says the intensification of the conflict might eventually make it easier for the two sides to reach a political accord. It says it might be easier for a right-wing leader in Israel to make the necessary compromises.

"Like Begin in the past, Sharon might be the only one capable of imposing an accord on Israelis and Palestinians alike," Le Temps says.

Another French-language daily, La Tribune de Genève, says Sharon's election is likely to result in political paralysis, and believes that in the long run, the framework for a peace deal laid out by Barak will prevail.

by Malcolm Shearmur


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