ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Arafat’s Death and Palestinian Fragmentation

Arafat’s Death and Palestinian Fragmentation

23 October 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The imminent and fairly quick demise of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat looks more realistic every day as he has lost 8 kilos (17.6 lbs.) over the past few weeks and is said to be suffering from general weakness and great pain.  The diagnosis seems to be some sort of liver ailment or cancer. 

Speculation is rife as to what will happen to Palestinian society when the agreed upon symbol of a unified nationalism is gone.  With Arafat dead the façade will lift and the true forces will be let loose.  Arafat will leave behind a shattered economy and political system.  Local militias with narrow agendas in specific regions of the West Bank and Gaza will rise to power as the veneer of unity will collapse.  In other areas where no one strongman will arise anarchy will reign.  Extended families can be expected to do battle for turf control (example: southern Gaza) but in the end a stand-off will be reached in most areas.  With no one to inherit the PA Chairman’s throne any leader appointed by the Palestinian Legislature or cabinet will enjoy only partial support.  Most importantly, at best, he will control only a fraction of men under arms.

Arafat engaged in a scorched earth policy directed at his own people.  Early on he built in a “planned anarchy” should his violence against Israel fail.  He made himself and the PA one and the same and when he goes so will the state apparatus.  Arafat can be expected to succeed in his self induced planned Palestinian politicide.  A unified Palestinian state may very well be still-born.  Although in critical condition the Oslo Accords are still alive but with the death of the Chairman, there may be a double funeral.  (There may be a third victim, Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres, whose career over the past decade is indivisible from the Oslo process.  But as history has proven, Peres should never be counted out.)

The unified Palestinian leadership of Oslo may become a “has been” and the era of localized “enclave-ization” (as opposed to cantonization, which assumes an effective centalized federal authority at the top of the pyramid) could be around the corner.  Due to inertia the Palestinian Authority will remain, but only in name. 

To make the analogy clear a discussion of Communist theory is necessary.  Industrial workers were considered a class “for themselves”, meaning they could act together as a group in their own interests.  The peasantry however was considered only a form of class “of themselves,” they existed but had no collective consciousness and thereby took no coordinated, concerted action in their own interests.  Peasant revolts existed but led nowhere since they lashed out aimlessly without unity.

There is a Palestinian people, but they appear to be “of themselves” and not “for themselves”.  Arafat is considered the father of Palestinian nationalism, certainly in the rejuvenation period after 1967.  But what quality of national legacy will he leave behind?  Selfishly leaving himself as the only common denominator (and a symbolic one at that), with his death Palestinian fragmentation may reach new heights characterized by civil conflict.

In the end Yasir Arafat may be the undoing of the Palestinian state and people.