Thursday, November 04, 2004

 

Arafat primer #1

Thanks to the ever-amazing BBC for this Q & A on Yasser Arafat (who may or may not be dead as I write this...)

Q&A: What follows Arafat?

With Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seriously ill, key questions about who or what might follow him are being asked.
Is Yasser Arafat still important?

Mr Arafat has cut an isolated and forlorn figure for a few years. He has been confined by the Israeli army to his compound in Ramallah since 2001, and Israel and the US have refused to have anything to do with him.

The Palestinian Authority which he leads is widely perceived by Palestinians as corrupt and incompetent.

Despite this, he is still the most popular Palestinian politician, remaining the figurehead of the Palestinian national cause.

He is also the only Palestinian leader in a position to negotiate or sign a deal on behalf of Palestinians as a whole.

Ironically, American and Israeli calls for Palestinians to ditch their leader may have helped Mr Arafat.

Is a successor lined up?

Every scare over the Palestinian leader's health highlights a major problem in the Palestinian leadership.

There is no clear line of succession for the Palestinian Authority or the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the umbrella group for the Palestinian national movement.

He has not designated a deputy or successor, perhaps fearing that an impatient heir apparent might be a threat to him.

Under the Palestinian Authority's basic law, the speaker of Palestinian Legislative Assembly, Rawhi Fattuh, would take over the presidency for 60 days until a new president is elected. However, this is a technicality as Mr Fattuh has no real powerbase.

Who are the candidates?

Part of the problem for Palestinians is that there are several centres of power in the occupied territories.

One is the older generation of leaders, led by PLO Secretary General Mahmoud Abbas, who have been close to Mr Arafat and returned to the territories with him in 1994.

Another is local leaders such as former security chief Mohammed Dahlan and intifada leader Marwan Barghouti, currently in an Israeli jail.

Will there be a chaotic power struggle?

This is a distinct possibility.

In July, there was open fighting between different Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank with a series of kidnappings and shootings.

This was interpreted as a prelude to a power struggle between the "old guard" of the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat and his coterie on the one side, and a younger generation of pro-Arafat militiamen and security force members on the other who want the PA reformed.

What about Hamas and the other militant groups?

Were a chaotic and possibly violent power struggle to develop, the main beneficiary is likely to be Hamas, the militant Islamic group that dominates Gaza. The group is highly organised and unified.

In the past, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have avoided directly attacking Mr Arafat. They may not feel such restraint with any new leader.

What is Israel's view of these developments?

Many Israelis view Mr Arafat as an inveterate terrorist and an unreliable negotiator.

Most would be happy to see him gone - many Israeli right-wingers have proposed his expulsion from the occupied territories or his assassination.

Specifically, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mr Arafat have often appeared to be locked in a personal battle.

However, a chaotic situation in the occupied territories, which might further radicalise Palestinian politics, might not suit Israel.

In theory, Mr Arafat's death might delay Mr Sharon's disengagement from Gaza. If the Palestinian Authority leadership disintegrates, there is only Hamas to run the strip.

If the situation were to settle quickly, and a new moderate leadership emerge, the Israeli argument that there is no fit Palestinian party to negotiate with would evaporate.

Story from BBC NEWS:
BBC NEWS World Middle East Q&A: What follows Arafat?
Published: 2004/10/28 19:09:40 GMT

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