Many in the Arab world despise the ailing Ariel Sharon, blame him and Israel for the turmoil in the Middle East and — while giving credit for the withdrawal from Gaza — expressed little hope Thursday that his departure would end the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Arabiya television that Sharon’s health crisis had cast a deep shadow of doubt over the Jan. 25 Palestinian elections, a bellwether of regional political sentiment.
“Will Sharon’s health be used to hinder the elections?” he asked. “There are many questions we cannot answer at this stage.”
The Palestinian vote was teetering between postponement and going ahead on schedule before Sharon was rushed to the hospital for extensive surgery after a massive stroke Wednesday night. The militant Hamas organization — the author of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis — is running candidates for the first time and was poised to hand the Palestinian authority a drubbing.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had already suggested the vote might have to be delayed, citing what most saw as the convenient cover of Israel’s refusal to allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote. The Israeli crisis could provide yet another excuse.
Prophecies of gloom
Rejectionist Palestinians living outside the West Bank or Gaza were particularly gloomy.
“There isn’t any political solution on the horizon, neither in Sharon’s presence, nor in his absence so long as the Israeli policy is dependent on the United States,” said Maher Taher, the representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Damascus.
Mohammed Nazzal, member of the Hamas political in Beirut, warned against postponing the Palestinian elections and said he expected the Israelis to use Sharon’s illness or death as “an excuse to justify putting off the elections. This is something we reject.”
“Sharon’s absence removes from the political scene a professional killer who mastered the murder of Palestinians and addressed the most violent, brutal and bloody strikes (against Arabs) in the history of the Arab-Israeli struggle,” he said. “The Palestinian people can only hope that what is coming is better, not worse.”
A Beirut a newspaper editor said he feared Sharon’s absence from the scene could lead to more Israeli-Palestinian violence and postponement of the election.
“This is a big event,” said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper. If Sharon dies, it “could lead to the postponement of the Palestinian elections and the Israeli elections and possibly could lead to a security deterioration,” he told The Associated Press.
He predicted, however, the repercussions would largely be limited to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s a quake, whose aftershocks will be local — Israeli and Palestinian — because the (Mideast) conflict has become a Palestinian-Israeli one,” Noureddine told AP.