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Opinion: It's up to Israel Now

Following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the ball is now in Israel's court to determine the future of the Middle East peace process, according to DW's Peter Philipp.

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Their successors should do the same

People in Israel won't mourn Yasser Arafat -- for too many of them, the late leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) remains a symbol of the terror that has claimed too many civilian victims among Israelis.

On the other hand, it should become clear now that it's not enough to simply isolate a disagreeable opponent and declare him an "irrelevant person," as Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon did three years ago. Arafat wasn't a partner for negotiations, Sharon's government decreed, adding that no others existed, either.

During Arafat's lifetime, such arguments gave Sharon plenty of rope in his actions against the intifada. They also convinced the White House while most other countries -- especially in Europe -- continued to view Arafat as the legitimate representative of Palestinians, a representative Israel simply had to deal with.

A need for a different approach

After the Palestinian leader's death, the ball is now in Israel's and the US' court: It's not longer possible to claim that there is no negotiation partner on the Palestinian side. Arafat's successor will have to be dealt with in a different way.

Acceptable negotiation partners for Israel and the US include Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's most likely successor, and current Palestinian Premier Ahmed Qureia. But neither Israel nor the US can voice their own preferences now: After four years of intifada, the Palestinians are so frustrated, hurt and angry that signs of support for a candidate from either country would guarantee his defeat in the planned elections.

At the same time, Sharon's government will have to play with open cards: It has dramatically announced the withdrawal from the Gaza strip, but didn't coordinate it with the Palestinians because of its stand towards Arafat. Sharon should now discuss this with a successor. The withdrawal, which at best should take place earlier than planned, could serve as a goodwill gesture for the Palestinians and help to calm the situation in the Palestinian territories.

Israel should withdraw

A pacification is desperately needed, not just because of the general level of exhaustion caused by the intifada, but also because of the upcoming Palestinian elections. It's impossible to imagine them taking place in the presence of Israeli tanks. The Israeli armed forces should withdraw from the re-occupied territories -- and especially the cities -- as quickly as possible. Israel should lift restrictions on free movement of Palestinians, which prevent any move towards normalcy. Israel and the US have to understand that without such a minimum of normalization, an orderly change of power won't be possible for Palestinians, allowing radicals to continue to dominate. In that case, the biggest chance in years to revive the destroyed peace process would have gone to waste.

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