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After Arafat?

10 October 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat continues to be the center of all Palestinian and world-wide concerns when speaking of the Middle East.  Recently he surrounded himself with women and children when suspicions arose as to his possible abduction or removal by Israel.   He figured such an “innocent” human shield of accomplices and hostages would guarantee his survival.  But Israeli security forces know that to exile him or pull the trigger would only be a disadvantage.  For the last several days he is reported to be in poor health with a liver infection, yet he is up and around, blocking attempts at forming a government. 

He prefers an emergency cabinet of six ministers and refuses to give Nasser Yusif full powers as interior minister.  Demanding control over the Palestinian security forces himself he want to use Yusif as a fig leaf.  Prime Minister designate Abu Ala resigned last week demanding a broad based more representative government, but is reported to still be negotiating with Arafat.  The Palestinian leadership is paralyzed as usual, just the way Arafat likes.  His issue as usual is to control the security forces, guaranteeing they take no action to halt terrorism.

In Israel just this past week the operational (as opposed to theoretical) question arose, “What after Arafat?”  At the moment there is a semi-controlled and even planned anarchy with the different Palestinian terror organizations going their own ways.  The Hamas and Jihad are in opposition to the PA, the Fatah (Al-Aksa Brigades and Tanzim supposedly take orders from Arafat) and the local family militias such as in southern Gaza are more like Mafia clans than anything else.  Whether Arafat can control all these groups is unknown, he has never given the order to reign them in, but the threat of his presence is thought to have an effect.

Arafat is determined as all dictators are, to leave no one successor.  Should he leave the scene, Abu Ala would be next in line, but his control over Fatah and the PLO is far from that of the Chairman and there will be many to challenge him.  Each political leader will be dependent on his own militia and if he does not have one he will need to make an alliance.  Those like Mohammed Dahlan (Gaza) and Jabril Rajoub (Hebron area) have the loyalty of thousands of armed men.  But the façade of a central authority will crumble leaving local militias in full control of specific regions.

The Palestinian hierarchy will be organized differently but Israel will continue to face terrorism.  Even if the “Arafatless’ Palestinian leadership would come to an agreement with Israel it will be enforceable only by region and could be undermined by any number of local armed groups.  Such local agreements could be the beginning of the answer.

With Arafat’s demise, one can initially expect more of the same, but the “Day After” might offer a glimmer of hope, but certainly not one to be dependent upon.