Palestinian Ambassador to Yemen says . . .PLO will carry on despite Arafat’s illness [Archives:2004/787/Front Page]

November 4 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

When Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat traveled to Paris late last week for tests to discover the cause of his illness, uncertainty began to loom over Palestine and the rest of the Middle East. Many are wondering who would replace Arafat, who has led the Palestinians for nearly four decades, if he passes away or is unable to carry out his responsibilities as President of the Palestinian Authority and Head of the Fatah organization.
Some are expecting a power struggle among high-ranking politicians which could divide the Palestinians seeking the end of occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Worse yet, some are speculating that there might be chaos if there is a power vacuum and violence will escalate in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict that started in the fall of 2000.
Dr. Khalid El-Sheikh, Palestinian Ambassador to Yemen, told Yemen Times that although the possible absence of Arafat would be hard to accept, the transfer of power would be carried out smoothly by Palestinian authorities.
“After Arafat's departure for treatment, I think we have proven that in a calm manner we can take care of the situation,” said El-Sheikh. “We have establishments and institutions that are working well, and we have basic laws that can guarantee the continuity and make things clear to everybody.”
By Palestinian law, if Arafat passes away, Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Rouhi Fattouh, would replace the leader and elections would be held within 60 days. According to Arafat's instructions, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas heads the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) while the current Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei is in charge of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority is responsible for governing Palestinian territories but is viewed as being under the power of the PLO.
“I am certain that there will be no struggle,” said El-Sheikh. “Things are institutionalized, and everybody knows his place. Abbas and all of us have worked with Arafat for many years. We understand each other and know our goals. We might have little differences on techniques and how to manage things, but the goals are clear to every one of us: the liberalization of our land, the establishment of the state and the withdrawal of Israeli occupation based on the 1967 borders.”
Last Saturday, Abbas presided over a meeting of the executive committee of the PLO. It was the first time Arafat was not able to attend an executive committee meeting in the last 35 years. Abbas told the press after the meeting that business continues as usual while Arafat is in the hospital in Paris.
“President Arafat wants us to continue normally, particularly in these difficult circumstances,” said Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen and the number two man in PLO's executive committee. “Palestinian leadership institutions will continue in the framework of the Palestinian Authority, according to the Palestinian basic law.”
Abbas also addressed the Palestinians to remain united while Arafat's condition is in question. “We call on all our people and factions to unite and work together in a responsible fashion to protect our destiny,” Abbas said.

Up to now, it has been reported that the Palestinian leader has suffered from a blood platelet deficiency. Doctors have ruled out that Arafat, who is 75 years old, has leukemia, a blood-related cancer that can be fatal.
“We receive reports on the leader's health day by day, and they show that he is improving,” said El-Sheikh.
Last Saturday, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sent a letter to Palestinian Prime Minister Qorei accusing Israel of trying to divide Palestinian factions while Arafat's health has deteriorated. The letter said that the Palestinians were “aware of the malicious efforts by the Israeli entity and its intelligence services to poison the Palestinian national unity and trying to incite differences and conflicts.”
El-Sheikh believes that Israel might capitalize on the absence of Arafat but said the Palestinians will overcome it as an obstacle.
“We know the Israelis will try to invest in this. They have been trying to divide the Palestinians, trying to make conditions for a civil war and this has continued while we have been able to overcome these attempts,” said El-Sheikh. “I'm sure we'll face the same thing, but we will overcome this.”
Soon after the Palestinian Intifada emerged in 2000, the Israeli government forced Arafat to reside in his compound in Ramallah and has been confined for nearly three years. Although Israel did not guarantee the safety of Arafat to return to the compound if he traveled since December 2001, the government has said that the leader would be allowed to return to Ramallah from Paris after medical tests.
According to El-Sheikh, if Arafat's health worsens and he passes away, the leader as a symbol of Palestinians aiming for liberation and establishing an independent state will be missed a great deal.
“Hopefully he will recover, return and lead his people. In fact, we need him at this difficult time,” said El-Sheikh. “He is our leader, and he is the father for many of us. He is the only Palestinian leader that has stayed for such a long time, so it will be hard to deal with it if he is gone.”