ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | A Post-Arafat Scenerio or Two 31.10.04

A Post-Arafat Scenerio or Two

31 October 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

When getting to the bottom of a scandal one is often advised to "follow the money". By the same token the key to understanding Palestinian politics and who will inherit the leadership from Yasir Arafat now that he is seriously ill, is to "follow the weapons". As long as Arafat held them and was said to be ready to use them against Palestinian adversaries, he was percieved as in control. By the time he exited last Friday the Palestinian Authority was only a name with no real power behind it. It is said Arafat could have called off the terror attacks against Israel, but never gave the order, thereby leaving everyone to discuss his potential for bringing peace.

Journalists and analysts are bantering around scenerios of "the day after Arafat," focusing on the leadership abilities and the political acumen of either PM Abu Ala, former PM Abu Mazen and a host of other personalities who might serve as a moderating influence, reign in terrorism and bring diplomatic pressure on Israel to negotiate with the new reliable Palestinian partner. Arafat, in true dictatorial form, made sure not to leave an heir forcing whoever does take the reigns as PA chairman to build a broad coalition of leaders to support him. The "moderate" leadership will then present itself as a rational negotiating partner. The European Union will promptly apply pressure, hailing the new dawn of peace opportunities.

But Israeli PM Ariel Sharon is far from gullible and will demand a halt to terror activities and incitement. The Israeli interest is in Palestinian anti-terror actions and not verbiage. The PA will have to use its weapons against the Hamas/Jihad and Fatah/Al-Aksa Brigades, not a likely scenerio. Fatah gave birth to the PA and Palestinian officials freely admit their loyalties are foremost to Fatah and only afterwards to the state-in-the-making, Palestinian Authority.

There is depth to Palestinian geographic loyalties and local strongmen such as Mohammed Dahlan (Gaza) and Jabril Rajoub (southern West Bank) who can be expected to carve out their turf (cantons) using the thousands of men and weapons at their disposal. Others will gain control over Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, etc. A lose alliance with clearly defined borders between them can allow for a form of collective leadership and even a lessening of hostilities with Israel, if all will be in agreement. But each in his own fiefdom would have to crush terror cells or face wrathful Israeli incursions to do so instead. The side effect will be a weakening of those same local leaders. Types like Dahlan and Rajoub have no interest in being seen as enfeabled. So much for the "positive" scenerio.

The Islamicist Hamas\Jihad want a part in the collective administration, the day after Arafat. Fatah is not particularly interested. They have two options, battle the Fatah/PA throughout the West Bank and Gaza, or take them on in specific cantons. For example, Islamic loyalties ride high in the Gaza Strip and Dahlan could be challenged. He might decide to crush them or take them into a local collective leadership. Should option two prove the answer, Dahlan would need the Hamas/Jihad to agree to halt terror activities or face Israeli forays. Continuing terrorism will undermine both the local and national Palestinian leadership. It is possible that the anarchy Arafat leaves behind will increase into total chaos. Many consider this "negative".

But a Palestinian free for all will not particularly disturb Sharon. He will just continue with his unilateral Disengagement from Gaza and carry on building the fence as a border with the West Bank (and then disengage). As his supporters have made clear over the past weeks, the Israeli government is much better off moving unilaterally with American approval, than it is in making uneforceable agreements with "moderate" Palestinian leaders. Washington lives up to its end of the bargain, those in Ramallah do not.

From Israel's perspective any future arrangements are dependent on the level of Palestinian violence, with or without Arafat. On a political level Israel is willing to deal with a unified national Palestinian leadership or local strongmen. Sharon's strategic objective is to disentangle from the Palestinians and prevent demands for a bi-national state while ensuring the maximum amount of security possible.

In a word, any Palestinian leader who will not prevent terrorism will be treated as "irrelevant" and follow in the footsteps of the revered leader, Yasir Arafat.