What’s next for Palestine?Arafat down [Archives:2004/788/Front Page]

November 8 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

While Yassar Arafat appears to be close to death in a French military hospital, Palestinians in Yemen wonder how the elder statesman can ever be replaced.
At press time, Arafat remained in critical condition.
Palestinians that spoke to Yemen Times said he is the unifying force keeping the Palestinians together to end Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state.
“He is the leader of the Palestinians and a real patriot, so if we lose him now it will be a big loss,” said Ibrahim Ahmed, a Palestinian college student in Yemen. “He has brought the Palestinian people together and is the father of all Palestinians. He would be able to keep all the Palestinians and parties together if he stayed alive.”
Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority and Head of the Fatah organization, has a history of nearly four decades of leading the Palestinians, and with his experience many believe that he would still be the best leader for years to come.
“President Arafat has 40 years of experience of leading the Palestinians. No other leader has his experience and knowledge which means that he can handle the situation better than anyone,” said Khaled Walid, a manager of a publishing company in Sana'a. “He understands what is happening very well, so the best would be for his recovery.”
Some Palestinians claim that while the peace process has been put on hold, Arafat is still the best leader to tackle the problem.
“The Palestinian case is in a critical position, and Arafat is the only man who can handle the case well,” said Said Malak, General Manager of Computers and Solutions Tech based in Hodeidah. “I hope he stays alive because he is against Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's policy of aggression and is standing with the Palestinian people to end occupation.”
Many are concerned that a power struggle could erupt among Palestinian groups if he is no longer the leader. Arafat has not assigned a successor to fill his position.
“I'm afraid that if Arafat dies, the Palestinian groups might divide,” said Ahmed. “He keeps them together. It might be difficult to find the one leader to replace Arafat and keep the groups together.”
The Palestinian Ambassador to Yemen, Dr. Khalid El-Sheikh, said last week that the transfer of power will face few obstacles because Palestinian authorities have kept order since Arafat left for France and government institutions and laws will keep things intact if the leader passes away.
Before Arafat traveled to France to receive medical tests a week and a half ago, he appointed former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to head 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 control of the PLO.
Last Friday, representatives of Fatah met with members of militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other factions in Gaza, which was seen as showing unity. It is said that if Arafat passes away, Abbas and Qorei may team up to lead the transition before the next leader is selected.
By law, Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Rouhi Fattouh, would become the leader and elections would be held within 60 days if Arafat is no longer in charge.
Some Palestinians are worried that if a replacement is needed, the new leader might offer too many concessions to Israel if the peace process is rejuvenated.
“Palestinians do not want to retreat, and it is no time to surrender,” said Walid. “Some are moderates, and they might sign a peace agreement under unacceptable conditions, like handing over Jerusalem to the Israelis and not allowing Palestinian refugees to return home.”
There have been conflicting reports on Arafat's condition. Late last week, it was reported that Arafat was in a coma and was brain dead. Leila Shahid, a Palestinian spokeswoman, said soon after the report: “I can assure you that there is no brain death. He is in a coma. We don't know the type, but it's a reversible coma iven his condition and age, he is at a critical point between life and death.”
Earlier this week, reports said that Arafat was in critical condition and was able to come in and out of consciousness.
When Arafat first arrived in France, it was said that he was suffering from a blood platelet deficiency. Doctors said that he did not suffer from a fatal blood-related cancer, leukemia.
Another issue resulting from Arafat's health problems is where he can be buried if he passes away. Sharon has ordered that Arafat cannot be buried in Jerusalem.
Arafat was confined to a compound in Ramallah for almost three years as the Israeli government accused him of supporting attacks since a Palestinian uprising started in the fall of 2000.
Up to now, Palestinian authorities have not contacted Israeli officials concerning Arafat's burial site. There are now talks between Egyptian, Israeli and French officials of having Arafat buried in Egypt.
According to one Palestinian in Yemen, the location of Arafat being buried is not the most important issue. “I don't consider this a big problem. The most important issue is not where our leader is buried but how we will continue to fight for our cause without him,” said the Palestinian.
Arafat escaped death numerous times in the past, including assassination attempts, the Israeli siege in West Beirut in the early eighties, a plane crash in Libya in 1992 and some health problems over the years. Many Palestinians in Yemen are hoping that Arafat will live through another difficult time.
“No Palestinian wants him to die because this could weaken the Palestinian cause,” said Ahmed. “He is the leader we need at this time.”