Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's poor health attracted much attention in European newspapers on Friday. Editorialists also commented on the signing ceremony in Rome of the new European Constitution.
"Yasser Arafat has been on the Middle Eastern scene for so long that it is hard to imagine what the region would look like without him," Britain's The Guardian wrote. The paper celebrated Arafat's historic achievement of holding together a disparate coalition of armed groups under the umbrella of the PLO to forge a sense of legitimacy. "But as the aging Palestinian president slips into what may be a serious illness, Arabs, Israelis and the world need to think about his legacy and beyond."
Danish paper Jyllands-Posten was more critical of him: "The past 35 years with Arafat achieved appallingly little and the spiral of terror only developed further." The paper highlighted the fact that Palestinians continue to live impoverished existences in isolated refugee camps.
"Even if Yasser Arafat survives his difficult illness, he has lost the political fight," writes the Basler Zeitung from Switzerland argued. Because Arafat failed to reign in the violence and suicide bomb attacks by militants, Israel re-occupied those territories given to Palestinians under the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian leader shied away from true democracy and did not prime a suitable successor for himself, the paper criticized.
According to the paper L'Union from the northwestern French city of Reims, Israel used the divisions among the Palestinians to its own advantage by acknowledging Arafat as a partner for peace talks, while treating him as a terrorist by placing him under house arrest in Ramallah.
Le Figaro, from Paris, wrote that the Israeli prime minister and the new US president will now not be able to argue that Arafat is an obstacle to peace. Instead, they will be forced to again become diplomatically active. The paper calls on France, which has offered Arafat medical assistance, to do more to enable a smooth transition to a new Palestinian leadership in the event that Arafat dies.
As European leaders meet in Rome to sign the European constitution, the capital's Il Messagero daily declared the day a historic moment which occurs despite the will of its many opponents. "Only two years ago it seemed a far away utopia that the people of Europe -- united after the collapse of communism -- would bond over this constitution. And today this dream becomes a reality," the paper wrote.
Il Tempo, also from Italy, was more skeptical, noting that in "true EU style," the historic day has been tainted by problems. "Even today, politicians can't simply celebrate the important milestone, without raising the dispute over the new EU commission."
"Champagne, Zeffirelli, and pomp should have dominated the celebrations in Rome," wrote Austrian daily Der Standard. "However, chaos … and political crisis are the real atmosphere in which the EU constitution is signed." Rather than receiving praise, Italy's prime minister will hear more criticism about his backing controversial nominee Rocco Buttiglione that brought the new commission team to the brink of collapse.