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Europe

European Press Review: Will Palestine Survive Arafat?

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's critical health condition was the focus of numerous European editorials on Friday.

Britain’s The Daily Telegraph suggested that Yasser Arafat’s critical condition could open the door to the revival of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Yet, progress may not be as swift as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his foreign secretary, Jack Straw, would wish. They both reacted to George W. Bush’s electoral triumph by declaring that the most pressing political challenge in the world today is to get the two sides back round the

negotiating table. The incapacitation of the Palestinian leader will add credence to that view, the paper opined.

The Guardian, from London, said Arafat is "the father of the nation but not yet the father of the Palestinian state." It wrote that 40 years on from the age of British de-colonization, he is the last man who can claim that status. The paper recalled that Arafat had to win recognition of the fact that there was such a thing as a Palestinian nation at all. "To move from defensive consolidation and start to build a nation was nigh impossible. That Arafat managed to do it and retain the affection of his people, not just as a symbol of independence but as a

respected and approachable human being, is a tribute of his greatness."

The Paris daily Liberation wrote that Yasser Arafat’s death will usher in a dangerous phase for the Palestinians. His death might mean the birth of a new Arab myth, but the immediate and burning question is whether Palestine will survive Arafat. Will his orphans manage to unite in a different way than through his symbol?

Liberation’s compatriot Le Figaro, while praising Arafat as one of the great figures of the 20th century, wonders whether he really wanted peace. The former terrorist, who became the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, was during his entire life an expert at playing a double game. He was so unpredictable that it was hard to know whether he was always acting in the interest of his people or in his own interest, the paper said.

US President George W. Bush's election victory still gives commentators plenty of food for thought. Germany’s Berliner Zeitung wrote that there is little room for optimism in the analysis of Washington’s future policies, but that for the political practice it is indispensable. For without transatlantic cooperation there will never be a peace process in the Middle East that deserves that name, and it will be even harder to slow down the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In addition, the Berlin daily said, if America and Europe feud, it reduces the western democracies effect on the rest of the world and weakens the fight against terrorism.

Incoming European Commission president Jose Barroso tried to end the political crisis in the European Union on Thursday by unveiling his new team of commissioners after the European Parliament had last month expressed concerns about a number of candidates, including Italy’s Rocco Buttiglione. Commenting on his replacement with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, the Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero write: "It took almost a month -- dominated by negotiations, international squabbles and even crusades from other eras. Now it seems we have made it. Everywhere you look approval and widespread praise. One begins to wonder why we couldn’t have got there much sooner."