Arafat's death makes Palestine's future unknown

PA candidates for power are ready to negotiate with Israel

Yasser Arafat died on Thursday morning at a French hospital. The heart of the 75-year-old Palestinian leader stopped beating. Arafat was balancing between life and death for 14 days. The world media were scrutinizing every message from France for 14 days too. Those days were also filled with battle for power in the Palestinian administration.

It seems that the compromise has been achieved. Palestine will be ruled by the so-called triumvirate. The speaker of the Palestinian legislative assembly, Rawhi Fattuh, is said to be the acting leader of the Palestinian Authority during the forthcoming 60 days. Elections will determine the new PA leader.

Mahmoud Abbas, the former Palestinian prime minister, was named chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Farouk Kaddoumi will become Fatah chief.

The news did not become a surprise – those candidates were named soon after Yasser Arafat had been flown to France. It is noteworthy, though, that the successor of the now-deceased Palestinians leader has not been found yet. Arafat took all above-mentioned posts, which made his opponents criticize him, now the three positions have been distributed between three different persons. It brings up the idea that there is no politician in Palestine, whose influence could be compared to Arafat's. One may also conclude that the battle for power is in full swing in the Palestinian administration.

The talks about Yasser Arafat leaving the world of big politics started long ago. People, however, were more interested in the technical side of the question: either Arafat would hand over his powers to another person or he would stay on his positions until his death. The first variant used to be quite popular, especially in the beginning of 2003, when Mahmoud Abbas was named the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas was considered a moderate politician, who was ready to negotiate with Israel. Yasser Arafat, however, did not hesitate to exercise his stance: the PA head did not wish to share the real power.

Latest events could only prove that Arafat was in charge of too many issues. No one would probably dare to say that the former Palestinian leader did not control the situation in his region, even in spite of his isolation in Ramallah. Arafat was called the instigator of subversive activities conducted against Israel. However, he was also the perfect deterrent for leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and many other smaller radical groups.

Mahmoud Abbas and the incumbent head of the PA government, Ahmed Qureia, are ready to conduct negotiations with Israel indeed. However, it does not mean that they will manage to guarantee that agreements will be executed accordingly. Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders have already accused Israel of Arafat's death. Spokespeople for Hamas believe that the Palestinian leader had been poisoned, whereas Islamic Jihad thinks that Arafat died from unbearable living conditions during the blockade in Ramallah. The leaders of the two extremist groups have promised to take revenge on Israel. How will the new Palestinian authorities fight extremism? Farouk Kaddoumi does not stand for cooperation with Israel. Radicals may easily win the support of a part of the PA administration.

This is only a small part of problems that the Palestinian administration will have to deal with. Economic issues and the flourishing corruption have not surfaced yet, although they are as important as the regulation of the conflict with Israel. Poverty, unemployment and bribery make a perfect environment for extremist groups. Fast and efficient decisions, however, are not likely to follow soon. Abbas and Qureia, the two real candidates for power, have repeatedly appeared in corruption scandals.

There are too many questions about the future of Palestinians. It would not be a mistake to say that there are no answers to those questions at all. The name of the new PA head will probably become known in the forthcoming couple of months. The new person will not solve all problems, of course. The prime goal will be to prevent an outburst of hostility and strife that may destroy any peace perspective in the Middle East.

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Author`s name Olga Savka