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Germany

Germany Sees New Chance for Peace After Arafat

German foreign policy experts predict that the end of the Arafat era will bring a fresh start for the Middle East peace process, as well as German mediation efforts.

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Foreign Minister Fischer has worked to gain Palestinians' trust

While being cautious not to say too much while Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains in a coma in a Paris hospital, German foreign policy experts nonetheless conveyed their optimism on Friday over a new impetus in the Middle East peace process in the post-Arafat era.

Sources at the foreign ministry said that Arafat's death would likely see the United States' government return in a much more active role to the negotiating table, Reuters news agency reported. "There's a window now to introduce real movement in the process," sources said.

Gernot Erler

Gernot Erler

The Social Democrat's foreign policy expert, Gernot Erler (photo), has also called on Israel to allow a fresh start to peace talks. In an interview with Die Zeit, Erler said there were two constructive things Germany could do at this critical juncture.

Patience and empathy

The first, he said, was to demonstrate patience and empathy with Palestinians, who are preparing for the difficult transition phase that is almost certain to follow Arafat's death.

"We need to recognize Arafat's enormous symbolic importance," Erler said. "He has embodied as no one else has, the entire suffering, and also the entire hope of the Palestinian people."

The second thing Germany can do, said Erler, is to work with both the Israeli and US government to restart the peace process. He added that in German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Germany has someone with the potential to act as a liaison during the coming transition.

"The foreign minister has so far been able to earn the trust of both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership," said Erler. "Now, he just needs to wait for the hour when he will be needed."

Mixed view of Arafat

The German government has long had a mixed view of Arafat. Unlike the Bush administration, Germany never totally boycotted dealings with the controversial Palestinian leader, in recognition of his enormous influence. But in recent years, he's been regarded in Berlin as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

"Arafat might be part of the problem, but the bigger problem is the Israeli government," said the head of the German Institute for Middle East Studies, Udo Steinberg.

Steinberg said he fears there could be an outbreak of violence in the wake of Arafat's death. The most important question right now, he added, is who will decide on what action security forces are permitted to take.

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