The latest events could herald historic turning point in the Middle East- that was the message from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon following the death of Yasser Arafat. Speaking to reporters at his office, Sharon said Israel would continue its efforts to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians. But he added that a breakthrough would depend first and foremost on a cessation of terrorism.
There would be no significant progress unless the new Palestinian leadership waged a “war on terror”, Sharon said, referring to radical groups responsible for suicide attacks in Israel. Many Israeli politicians are more blunt in their appraisal of Arafat. Yosef Lapid, the Minister of Justice and head of the centrist Shinui party, said: “Arafat missed the opportunity to have peace in the Middle East and a Palestinian state and chose terror as a weapon, not only against Israel but against Western civilisation. He was the godfather of Al-Qaida and of Bin Laden. And perhaps we now have a new opportunity to start talks with Palestinians who genuinely want to have peace.” For Israel, a very real fear is that the emotions stirred by Yasser Arafat’s death could spill over into acts of violence. Consequently, the army has completely sealed off the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, a measure it has used during the most tense moments in the Palestinian uprising.