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Swiss split over Arafat’s legacy

A member of Arafat's Presidential Guard weeps in Gaza City Keystone

While Palestinians in the West Bank mourn their leader, elsewhere in the world news of the death of Yasser Arafat has prompted a very mixed response.

This content was published on November 11, 2004 - 15:13

Within Switzerland, reactions have ranged from sadness to anger, from relief to hopefulness.

Ahmed Benani, the Swiss-Moroccan president of the International Observatory for Palestinian Affairs, says that Arafat’s death is a sad event, but that politicians everywhere have used it for their own purposes.

“Arafat died at a time that suited the godfathers in Washington and Tel Aviv, and when their Arab valets led by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were ready to bury him,” Benani wrote in a statement.

“I feel sorry for the old fighter, I feel sorry for the Palestinians,” he added. “I cannot hold back my tears of revolt and sadness.”

“Loss”

"It's a loss for those fighting for the rights of the Palestinians," lamented Peter Leuenberger of the Switzerland-Palestine Association.

"Yasser Arafat had spent his life defending the Palestinian cause."

But Thomas Lyssy, spokesman for the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities, says that few people will miss Arafat.

“Most of our 18,000 members in Switzerland have always considered Arafat to be a terrorist,” he said. “His fortune helped contribute to terrorist actions against the state of Israel.”

Lyssy told swissinfo he was hopeful the Palestinian leader’s death would give peace a chance in the Middle East. “We hope his successors will be wise enough to take the opportunity to relaunch the peace process.”

Challenge

Pierre Hazan, one of the initiators of the "Movement for a just peace in the Middle East", says that the Palestinians are now facing a major challenge.

"They will have to prove they can be united, which is not a given at this time," he told swissinfo.

Hazan, whose association was set up by Jews and Arabs living in Switzerland, says the Israeli authorities may also be feeling a sense of loss.

"They considered Arafat to be a military leader, who gave them a good reason not to seek peace," he added.

Future

Whether Arafat’s death will make any difference in the Occupied Territories is open to debate, according to Swiss Middle East specialist Arnold Hottinger.

“Arafat has been sidelined for a long time, and really it all depends on [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon,” he told swissinfo.

“I’m afraid that Sharon will take this occasion to divide the Palestinians even more. And it’s very easy for them [the Israelis] to do because they have all the levers of power.”

The analyst says that the Israeli factor is not the only one coming into play with Arafat’s death. He warns there could be a split within the Palestinian ranks.

“I’m not sure we will get one leader [of the Palestinians] – maybe it will be several,” he added, pointing out that this could be the scenario favoured by the Israelis.

“It is not in the interest of Sharon to have one leader. He wants several ghettos, each with its own leader.”

swissinfo

In brief

Yasser Arafat was born on August 24, 1929 in Cairo.

He was leader of the Palestinian Authority from 1993 and president from 1996.

He chaired the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 and led Fatah, the largest of the factions within the PLO.

In 1994, he was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres.

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