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Arafat: The Enigmatic Leader

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    Arafat: The Enigmatic Leader By Kareem M. Kamel Researcher – International Relations 30/10/2004 It s only natural to expect that there would be either a
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2004
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      Arafat: The Enigmatic Leader

      By Kareem M. Kamel
      Researcher – International Relations
      30/10/2004


      "It's only natural to expect that there would be either a power
      struggle or a loss of cohesion."[1]

      – Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Legislator


      Arafat will be remembered as the leader who mastered the art of
      political survival.


      As international attention continues to be gripped by details of the
      ongoing US election campaign and events in Iraq , another
      development with potentially serious repercussions has been taking
      place over the past two days. A noticeably weaker Arafat after more
      than two years of confinement in his Ramallah compound, has been
      experiencing a potentially life threatening health crisis. Reports
      of his ailment have varied widely, with some medical sources
      suggesting that recently the Palestinian leader experienced spells
      of dizziness, nausea, and recurrent vomiting. Others suggested that
      the Palestinian leader suffers from leukemia.

      The seriousness of the situation could be manifested in initial
      reports hinting that a care-taker government led by three senior
      officials – Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia; his
      predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas and Salim Zaanoun, head of the
      Palestinian parliament – would run the Palestinian Authority (PA)
      and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) under a decree
      Arafat issued before he fell sick.[1] In addition, for the first
      time since the uprising erupted in September 2000, Arafat's wife,
      Suha, left her luxurious residence in Paris to see her husband in
      Ramallah. Interestingly, speculations emerged to whether Israeli
      authorities would allow Arafat back to his Ramallah compound, should
      he decide to leave for treatment abroad.

      As Yasser Arafat left Ramallah to seek treatment in Paris , there
      was a general aura of apprehension in the Palestinian street and
      feelings of uncertainty pervaded the atmosphere as many began to
      contemplate the repercussions of Arafat's potential departure from
      the political scene. Nevertheless, in an indication of how Arafat's
      popularity had plummeted in recent months, Arafat's low-keyed
      departure from his compound stands in stark contrast to his
      triumphant arrival in the Palestinian territories a decade earlier,
      when tens of thousands of Palestinians cheered as his motorcade
      drove through the Gaza Strip.[2]

      The Tensions Within – Palestinian Politics in Peril


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      Despite his controversial role in the Palestinian movement, Arafat
      represented the symbol of the Palestinian struggle.


      The health crisis that has befallen the Palestinian leader in recent
      days has exposed a multi-level crisis within Palestinian politics.
      Despite his controversial role in the Palestinian movement, Arafat
      represented the symbol of the Palestinian struggle, an
      unquestionable source of national unity, and the personification of
      Palestinian national aspirations. If Arafat were to die, it is
      expected that domestic Palestinian politics would be plunged into
      anarchy and disarray as rival factions would vie for power.

      Even with Arafat still alive, chaos has taken hold of much of the
      West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past months, gunmen have routinely
      seized government offices and held various employees hostage.
      Moreover, security agents loyal to Gaza strongman, Mohamed Dahlan,
      who is known to have presidential ambitions, have clashed with
      another security chief, Moussa Arafat, a relative of Yasser Arafat.
      [3] Without Arafat's leadership role, simmering political rivalries
      within the Fateh movement itself are likely to erupt. The old guard –
      the "made-in-Tunis regime" that was allowed to return with Arafat
      from exile in the 1990s – would likely clash with younger Fateh
      activists who remained in the West Bank and Gaza, fought Israel in
      two uprisings, and currently demand their share in political power.


      -----------------------------------------------------------------

      Many Palestinian movements have long objected to the cronyism and
      corruption that have been rampant in the Palestinian territories.


      More importantly, the Palestinian movements represented by the Jenin
      Martyrs' Brigades, the Al-Aqsa Matrys' Brigades, the Abu Rish
      Brigades, Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, as well as Hamas and Islamic
      Jihad, have long objected to the cronyism and corruption that have
      been rampant in the Palestinian territories since Arafat came from
      exile. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2003, the European
      Union provided $12 million dollars a month to the PA without proper
      controls. In fact, as early as 1997, a Palestinian internal audit
      revealed that $359 million, out of a budget of $880 million, had
      disappeared. Surprisingly, while many Palestinians live in utter
      poverty and unemployment levels have reached almost 70% in the Gaza
      Strip, the German public broadcaster ARD claimed that in September
      2001, Arafat added $5.1 million – a sum that might have included
      international aid money – to his personal account in the Arab Bank
      in Cairo .[4]

      In many ways, the Al-Aqsa Intifada could also be seen as a popular
      message of rejection to not only Israeli practices, but to the
      Palestinian Authority (PA) – the architect of Oslo . In fact, during
      the Oslo decade, the PA worked towards the establishment of another
      Middle Eastern police state with US and Israeli support. Even during
      the Intifada, Palestinian policemen shot down their own people with
      live ammunition when Palestinians rallied in the thousands to
      support Osama bin Laden and denounce the US attacks on Afghanistan .
      Yasser Arafat, fearing he would lose the sympathy of President
      George W. Bush, ordered a crackdown which killed three Palestinians
      and injured 50 more in clashes.[5]


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      There is a PA policeman for every 60 Palestinians.


      The corruption, cronyism and lack of consideration for the rule of
      law are magnified by the number of security forces that exist inside
      Palestine – a PA policeman for every 60 Palestinians.[6] As the late
      Edward Said rightly noted : "As for the Oslo `peace process' that
      began in 1993, it has simply re-packaged the occupation, offering a
      token 18% of the lands seized in 1967 to the corrupt Vichy-like
      Authority of Arafat, whose mandate has essentially been to police
      and tax his people on Israel's behalf."[7]

      Throughout the past several years, Arafat had produced several
      declarations calling on his people to end armed resistance against
      Israelis and his security forces have cooperated on many occasions
      with Israeli occupation authorities. PA officials have closed down
      several Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices – even those that dealt with
      providing welfare and education to the Palestinian public.[8] Arafat
      himself announced several times that his government helped prevent a
      wave of revenge attacks on Israel in the aftermath of the Israeli
      assassination of Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and Abdul Aziz
      al-Rantissi.[9]

      Arafat vs. Anarchy – "Better the Devil You Know"


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      If Arafat were to die, both the Israelis and the Americans will be
      left with bleak alternatives.

      Despite the numerous concessions that Arafat has provided to both
      the US and Israel , Ariel Sharon and his supporters in the White
      House are hoping for the rise of a "more moderate" leadership than
      that of Arafat. Setting aside numerous calls for the Palestinian
      leader to step down, it is highly unlikely that the US and Israel
      have contingency plans or coherent policies designed to deal with a
      post-Arafat era. Over the past several years, the presence of a
      marginalized and confined Arafat, has left decision-makers in the US
      and Israel with, at least, a Palestinian character with a certain
      historical legacy that they were familiar with over the decades.

      If Arafat were to die, both the Israelis and the Americans will be
      left with bleak alternatives. Ultimately, without Arafat's unifying
      influence, Israel and the US might find themselves facing a power
      vacuum and potentially bloody struggles between various Palestinian
      factions. Shmuel Bar, of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at
      the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, explains: "When Arafat
      dies, the PLO will die with him. Then we can take our pick of
      Balkanization, Lebanonization, or Afghanistanization."[10]

      What makes matters more complicated is that Sharon has been pursuing
      his own "road map" for Israel which involves the removal of the
      remaining vestiges of the Oslo Accords, incorporating areas of the
      West Bank behind Israel 's "security" barrier, and imposing an
      unbearable level of suffering on Palestinians through mass killings,
      house demolitions, daily incursions and systematic humiliating
      checkpoints. Given the lack of a meaningful process of political
      transition in Palestine and, more importantly, the pervasiveness of
      Israeli occupation practices, it is highly unlikely that any
      legitimate future Palestinian leadership would be a "moderate" one.


      ----------------------------------------------------------------

      It is highly unlikely that any legitimate future Palestinian
      leadership would be a "moderate" one.


      In the past few months, Egypt and Israel have already been
      discussing future security arrangements in the Gaza Strip in an
      attempt to contain the rising popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad –
      should Israel 's planned unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip
      take place. More importantly, the lack of a meaningful political
      process coupled with absolute desperation, might radicalize already
      existing Palestinian factions and produce splinter movements with
      extreme agendas. One only has to note that US carnage in Iraq
      coupled with the imposition of a puppet government with no popular
      legitimacy, has subsequently contributed to the steady rise of
      numerous radical groups in Iraq . This has prompted many French
      officials to indicate that any meaningful conference on Iraq must
      include representatives of insurgent factions. Similarly, the US and
      Israel might be left with a similar situation should militant
      Palestinian groups take control of the scene in a post-Arafat
      world.

      For all intents and purposes, Arafat has managed over the past
      several years through his symbolic stature to put a lid on
      Palestinian resistance and limit the Intifada's potential for
      militancy. From Amman to Beirut to Tunis , and from Gaza to
      Ramallah, Arafat will always be remembered as the leader who
      mastered the art of political survival. Despite his many
      shortcomings and inconsistencies, Arafat will go down in history as
      the man who put the Palestinian national cause on the international
      agenda.


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      Kareem M. Kamel is an Egyptian analyst based in Cairo, Egypt. He has
      an MA in International Relations and is specialized in security
      studies, decision- making, nuclear politics, Middle East politics
      and the politics of Islam. He is currently a teaching assistant to
      the Political Science Department at the American University in
      Cairo.


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      [1] "Arafat Reported to be Seriously Ill," MSNBC October 28th, 2004

      [2] "Arafat Arrives in Paris for Medical Care," MSNBC October 29th,
      2004

      [3] "Arafat Crisis Exposes Lack of Preparation," MSNBC October
      27th, 2004

      [4] Tekla Szymanski, "Should He Stay, or Should He Go?: The Arafat
      Mystique," World Press August 31st, 2004

      [5] "Clash of Palestinians, Police Turns Fatal," The Arizona
      Republic October 9, 2001 : A7

      [6] Raji Sourani, "Human Rights Work Since Oslo : A Two-Dimensional
      Approach," Palestine Center September 25th, 2000

      [7] Edward Said, "The Desertion of Arafat," New Left Review
      September/October 2001

      [8] "Arafat Calls for End to Suicide Operations," Israel Insider
      December 16th, 2001

      [9] "Arafat: We Prevented Attacks on Israel," Al-Jazeerah (English)
      May 31st, 2004

      [10] Tekla Szymanski, "Should He Stay, or Should He Go?: The Arafat
      Mystique," World Press August 31st, 2004

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