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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 13:31, November 11, 2004
Three "W"s in post-Arafat era
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Yasser Arafat who leads the Palestinians for four decades was declared dead Thursday after failing a battle for life at a French hospital.

Thanks to his lifetime devotion to the Palestinian cause, he was dubbed icon of a national struggle for statehood and won the Nobel Price for Peace in 1994.

With Arafat's passing away, people have been worried about possibilities ranging from an internal chaos to an escalation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


Arafat wished to be buried in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest in the Islamic world, but Israel has steadfastly rejected the demand.

The Palestinian leadership reached a consensus that Arafat will be buried at his battered headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah instead of his family graveyard in Gaza. The Israeli cabinet on Wednesday gave the green light for this.

Bulldozers and diggers were seen working inside the Muqata headquarters Wednesday to clear rubble for Arafat's resting place.

Moreover, Egypt has offered to host Arafat's funeral in Cairo, a move analysts say could help Arab leaders to pay last respects to Arafat without setting foot on the Israeli-controlled territories.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Wednesday that Arafat's body will eventually be moved to east Jerusalem even it may take years.

"I think it (the burial in Ramallah) will be temporary and one day when we have peace, President Arafat's body will be moved to east Jerusalem, to the al-Aqsa mosque," he added.


Arafat has never groomed any successor, but the aftermath of his absence from the political arena since Oct. 29 indicated that the much-feared power struggle did not happen and Arafat's lieutenants have managed to keep the situation under control.

Even Israel's intelligence has been surprised at the unprecedented unity among various Palestinian factions in Arafat's absence.

Palestinian leaders agreed on Wednesday that Parliament Speaker Rawhi Fattouh would serve as caretaker leader of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) after Arafat's death.

Under the Palestinian Charter, or the basic law, Fattouh would serve as acting head of the PNA for 60 days until a new chairman is elected.

Former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, general secretary of the powerful Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, will automatically head the PLO and the mainstream Fatah movement, while incumbent Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei will head the cabinet and the National Security Council.

Though the moderate old guards filled in the political vacuum, neither Abbas nor Qurei enjoyed as much public support as Arafat did.

They were shouldering the duties of maintaining stability, ensuring a smooth power transfer, gaining popularity and restarting peace talks with Israel.

In the general elections due to be held next spring, Fatah will be under pressure to usher in new faces, observers said.


The Israeli cabinet declared Arafat an enemy in March 2002. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Arafat's lifetime arch-foe, said Arafat was not a peace partner and resolutely cut off all kinds of contact with the veteran Palestinian leader.

Echoing Israel, the United States, a staunch ally of the Jewish state, had tried to sideline Arafat and evict him out of the Palestinian political arena.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, US President George W. Bush said that he was hopeful about peacemaking in the Middle East after Arafat gives way to a new leadership.

"There will be an opening for peace when leadership of the Palestinian people steps forward and says, 'Help us build a democratic society,'" he said.

Though Israel is willing to deal with Abbas, Qurei or other Palestinian officials as negotiating partners, any bargaining on such thorny issues as border, settlements, Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees' return of return will blow up any progress to be made.

In addition, the US-sponsored roadmap peace plan, which envisions a Palestinian state by 2005, has been stranded.

Instead, Sharon has made all efforts to push his unilateral disengagement plan with the aim of keeping the Palestinians at bay and denting their hope for statehood.

Analysts say that the peace process would remain deadlocked unless real actions from inside and outside will be taken.

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