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Mixed Reaction in Arab World Following Sharon Government Collapse - 2002-10-31

The Arab world has offered mixed reactions to the collapse of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unity government. While some political analysts say it could provide an opportunity to strengthen the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, others are warning it may make matters much worse.

Few in the Arab world have high regard for the hardline Israeli Prime Minister. So it comes as little surprise that many Arab citizens are applauding Wednesday's collapse of his coalition, saying they hope it will lead to more pro-peace government in Israel.

But political analysts in the region are mixed on the question of the long-term impact of Wednesday's developments in Jerusalem.

Political scientist Mohammad Kamal of Cairo University believes the collapse could open a window of opportunity for what he calls the "revival of the "peace camp" in the Israeli parliament.

"If Labor slips from the government, that means finally you will have an opposition to Sharon's policy," Mr. Kamal said. "This probably might lead to a revival of the peace camp, probably will lead to an alternative. So it will be much easier probably for the Arab countries to criticize Sharon if there is an alternative to his policies."

Not everyone agrees. Abdullah el-Ashaal, who is a lecturer and expert on Arab affairs in Cairo, says Mr. Sharon might be forced to seek a coalition between his conservative Likud party and right-wing parties to keep his government afloat until the next elections scheduled for a year from now. Mr. el-Ashaal says such a coalition could lead to tougher Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.

On the other hand, he says if Mr. Sharon decides to call for early elections they could result in a new public mandate for his policies for several years to come.

"I think if there are early elections, I think Sharon, he would be re-elected once more because Sharon had been on the slogan that he is assuring security for the Israelis and this security should come through the confrontation with the so-called Palestinian terrorists. So I think Sharon would come back with a new mandate and it would be a very bad threat to the whole process of peace in the future," he said.

Tawfik Abu Bakr, the director of the Jenin Center for Strategic Studies in Jordan, says the political upheaval is bad news for the peace process.

"I think that in the coming few weeks we shall see that announcement for a new election in Israel and I think this is bad for the peace process because it means that the peace process will be frozen for many months," said Mr. Bakr. "If there is a new election the government will be a transitional one and the Knesset [parliament] will be out of work so there will be no decisions taken to the peace process."

Mr. Sharon has given no indication he will call for early elections. But that decision may be taken away from him if he loses a confidence vote scheduled for Monday in the Israeli parliament.