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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 16:37 GMT
Hatred and hope in Israel
By Richard Miron
BBC correspondent, Jerusalem

On Jaffa Road, a busy thoroughfare in Jewish west Jerusalem, a few people have gathered around placards proclaiming in bold, "Arafat murdered my family."

Israeli girl
An Israeli girl reacts to a mock funeral notice for "evil" Arafat
A photomontage containing the pictures of hundreds of people hangs nearby - all of them Israeli victims of bloodshed that erupted following the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in 2001.

Meir Indor one of the organisers says of Arafat, "hope now that God will now try him...he built his career on killing many innocent people".

But most Israelis seem unexcited by the Palestinian leader's death, accepting it with resignation rather recrimination.

Dana Pollack, a student shrugs her shoulders when asked her opinion of Mr Arafat, "he was a man who didn't know how to keep his word," she says.

For her the future is more important than the past, "I hope something will now change...for the better and not for the worse," she adds.

Yasser Arafat was Ariel Sharon's political nemesis and in an initial statement the Israeli prime minister did not refer to his old adversary by name, but spoke of his hopes that the Palestinian leader's death could be a turning point for the Middle East.

Summing up the feelings of many in Israel towards Mr Arafat, Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said: "I hated him for the deaths of Israelis...I hated him for not allowing the peace process...to move forward."

Vilified

Across the Israeli political spectrum, Mr Arafat had become in recent years a political "persona non grata", even to those who had previously lauded him as a potential peacemaker.

For Israeli left wingers he was a contradictory figure, combining statesmanship and violence.

Shimon Peres, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, described his one-time negotiating partner as a man who had made a mistake in continuing on "the path of terrorism".

Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo peace accords, argued that Mr Arafat was not solely responsible for the violence of the recent years, also casting blame on Israeli rightwing.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (left) shakes hands on the Oslo agreement with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as then US President Bill Clinton looks on in 1993
The 1993 Oslo agreement boosted Mr Arafat's credibility as a peacemaker
Mr Arafat's image underwent a series of dramatic changes among Israelis. For many years he was vilified and condemned as a terrorist responsible for many civilian deaths.

But with the Oslo process he became a negotiating partner, capable of delivering a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Some Israelis insisted that the Palestinian leader had not changed and was still a man more committed to violence than diplomacy.

The increasing number of suicide bombings and the outbreak of the Intifada convinced most Israelis they had been mistaken in believing Mr Arafat was a viable negotiating partner.

Many in Israel now believe that Mr Arafat's death opens up the possibility of a renewed dialogue with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel should not rush to embrace the new Palestinian leadership and offer concessions but should instead wait until it has proven its ability to impose law and order.

There is nervousness about the immediate aftermath of Mr Arafat's death, about what will follow.

His passing comes at a vital time as Mr Sharon prepares to unilaterally disengage the Israeli army and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

But there is hope among many Israelis that the new political reality may now offer the Government an opportunity to carry out its plans as part of a revitalised peace process.


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