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Palestine and the Palestinians after Yasser Arafat

10/28/2004

After Arafat, Palestine will look pretty much as it does before Arafat, at least for a while.

Yasser Arafat has been Mr. Palestine for over forty years (see Arafat biography,) but he is also blamed for many of the recent misfortunes of the Palestinians. Recent reports that he is seriously ill with ailments variously decribed as gall stones, cancer of the gall bladder, flu, cancer of the large intestine or an undiagnosed serious virus ailment, have provoked speculation and fears of anarchy, government by extremists or a miraculous rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians.

None of these are likely to occur. Arafat has been confined by the IDF to his Mukata compound since 2002 and has been ailing increasingly. Physically, he is powerless. In parallel situations, where the system wanted to eject the ruler, he was ejected with little ceremony, as was the case with the Shah of Iran in 1979. However, Yasser Arafat is still the center of Palestinian political life, and attempts to displace him have been failures. This suggests that he is maintained as an institution, an embodiment of national goals and values, a symbol of unity and a rallying point. It also suggests that the policies he follows regarding Israel and the peace process represent a national consensus. Despite the personal animosity between Israeli PM Sharon and Yasser Arafat, the natural or unnatural removal of Arafat would not produce a radical change in Palestinian policy or a leadership willing to make wide-ranging concessions to Israel.

Though a recent poll indicates his popularity has waned from a high of over 73% support in September 2003 to just under 40% today, only about 27% of Palestinians believe there is another leader capable of signing a peace agreement with Israel. This suggests that any replacement leadership will pursue a cautious, status quo policy that stays close to the national consensus. Likewise, it is naive to think that all of ills of the current Palestinian regime are due to Arafat, since his support group are the beneficiaries of the corruption as well as his immediate heirs apparent.

Formally, continuity of the Palestinian leadership in the PNA is assured by the constitution, which gives the succession to the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Rowhi Fattouh, until elections are held within 60 days. However, Fattouh has little real political support and it may be difficult to hold elections in the current Palestinian reality, both because of the havoc wreaked by the occupation, and because of the anarchical state of Palestinian society.

A recent poll selected Mahmoud Zahar of the Hamas (15%) and Marwan Barghouti (13%, the Fatah leader jailed by Israel as the most popular candidates for President after Yasser Arafat (35%). However, it is unlikely that Hamas would take power. If they thought they could do so, they would have done it. It is probable that Fatah would retain control. It is possible that Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) would take over as President, with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) heading the Fatah, but this begs the question of who would take over as PM, and which factions would have the real power. Hopefully there would eventually be new elections and a new leadership would emerge, but in the near term it is unlikely that any leadership capable of carrying out negotiations with Israel or cleaning house internally will emerge. This means that the death of Arafat should not be a reason for Israel to desist from the disengagement plan and wait for Palestinian peace partners.

While no dramatic changes will probably occur in the near term, the transition period will undoubtedly be followed by the rise of new leadership. Moderate leaders and their supporters are well advised to take advantage of the interim period to consolidate their support, and Israeli, US and EU leaders seeking to promote a peaceful solution should find ways to promote the rise of moderate leadership.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000307.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 7 comments

The analysis maybe right or not, valuable or not, but there certainly are syntactical and grammatical errors in the essay that cause me to question the accurateness of the thinking and of the research behind it. Besides some parenthesis that are never closed, the most serious syntactical and grammatical error is the following: "both because of the havoc wrote by the occupation..." The sentence should probably say: both because of the havoc wreaked by the occupation,... [perhaps the author thought the past participle of wreak was "wrought," but my American Heritage Dictionary says this is wrong.

Posted by Yuval Warshai @ 10/28/2004 07:12 PM CST

There's no such word as 'acurateness', mate. Check your dictionary for that one!

Posted by Guy @ 11/01/2004 04:17 PM CST

Remmember even if Arafat has no power he is still the face of the Palestinian people and has been for more than 40 years. HIs death will lead to a revolution within the Palestinians, they will have to find a new leader, one that will hopefully fight for peace and be willing to see that Israel, no matter how illigitament its existance, it is not going any where. The best thing we can do now is move forward and build an economy that is able to support the people without hte help of the Israelis.

Posted by Teresa @ 11/02/2004 03:40 AM CST

It is often the case that very bright people do not have a skillful use of their native language. It is also true that very bright people are often not very wise. It is terrible when a bright person with superb communications skills is consistently unwise.

Posted by Jeff Martin @ 11/05/2004 02:51 AM CST

Condolences from Singapore to the Palestinians and Mrs Arafat on the death of Yasser Arafat.

Singapore

Posted by Han @ 11/11/2004 02:44 PM CST

To Guy, who said below, on 11/1:

"There's no such word as 'acurateness', mate. Check your dictionary for that one!"

I had written 'accurateness' and my spelling and usage was indeed completely accurate. The supposed word the way you spelled it, which is obviously inaccurate, obviously also does not exist in the dictionary. Does that make both of us right? I guess logically, you could almost say so. But in terms of the intellectual validity of the debate, your message was simply a total waste of time and intellectual resources.

Posted by Yuval Warshai @ 11/12/2004 07:12 AM CST

I dont not support the palestine side !!!

Posted by Tony Metzger @ 12/10/2004 04:33 PM CST


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