Arafat & after.
ASOMBRE QUIET HUNG OVER Ramallah in the early hours of 11 November. Few people spoke as they made their way to the centre of town. An elderly man tried to sell newspapers among the gathering blank faces. But no one took much notice. They had heard the news already. Abu Amar was dead.
Two weeks after being air-lifted to Paris fur emergency medical treatment, the death of Yasser Ararat, aged 75, came as no surprise to anyone in Ramallah. But still, the shock was great. "I can't speak to you today," said Mohammad, 18, sitting oil the step by his father's shop, I have known no life without him here."
Black smoke from burning lyres rose into the skies. People carrying banners, palm fronds and posters clambered onto the lion statues around Al Manaara in the centre of town. They waited for some cue from somewhere to start their mourning. At around 10am beads turned towards the ever louder chant that had begun in the main street.
"La Allah ila Allah wa Ahu Amar habib Allah." There is no God but God and God loves Abu Amar.
Women leaned from windows above closed shops. Some cried into clenched handkerchiefs. Others led the chants at the front of processions, their voices mostly drowned by the roar from men behind. "I am here because I have lost a father, a son, a symbol of who I am," screamed one woman supported by her two daughters.
From unseen locations bursts of gunfire were greeted by high pitch whistles from young boys. Masked members of armed resistance groups gradually began to appear in the crowd. In a side street two men wearing black balachalvas held their MI6s across their chest. "The Al Aqsa Martyrs will honour the orders of any leader elected by the people of Palestine. But we will go into battle with blades if it means we live to see a Palestinian state. We will follow the dreams of Ararat." Despite the presence of those advocating violent struggle, bullets did not dominate the processions of mourners. Children sat on their fathers' shoulders wearing chequered headbands, others ran among the crush waving olive branches and black flags, men and women stood or sat to the side of the slow-moving crowd. "I am a Palestinian and I will fight against the occupation said Mo'ataz, 45, with his hands over his ears as more bullets cracked skyward, "but not like these idiots. They will destroy Palestine."
A child wearing a balaclava and wielding a plastic gun was swamped by photographers. "This is very sad," said another man jostled sideways. "Again we will be misunderstood. It is terrible to see these boys dressed up like this. Terrible for Palestine."
In the evening candles flickered around the Muqata compound. Small groups huddled around shrines and chanted verses from the Koran. Somewhere high above in the darkness could be heard the drone of an Israeli spyplane.
"Can't they have stone respect," said one girl crouching by a group in silent contemplation of a candlelit poster of Ararat. "Leave us alone for one day so we can mourn the way we do!" The next morning, while Ararat received a military funeral in Cairo, feelings expressed behind closed doors the day before now burst onto the streets. Although it was reported that the Israeli Army had sealed off Ramallah from the rest of the West Bank, thousands from local villages and further afield had made it through.
Abu Khalid, 64, had come from Um Gayr, a village only 2km away. Negotiating a way around the Israeli checkpoints in between had taken him four hours.
"I have come to say goodbye to a great fighter who I have known all my life. No 19-year-old Israeli soldier could have stopped me coming here today," he said.
Noticing a man close by was standing on a newspaper picture of Ararat, he tapped him on the shoulder. "Why are you treading on Abu Amar?" he asked. "Oh God I didn't notice," said the man, picking the page up and carefully folding it into his pocket.
For Ali and Mohammad, both 18, negotiating a way around the checkpoints outside Nablus had not been necessary. "When we showed the Israeli soldiers our ID they said, 'have a nice day and thank God he's dead'. At another checkpoint they distributed sweets to everyone in the bus but we didn't eat them. I didn't like Arafat's politics but he was still the symbol of Palestine. He achieved a lot."
At around 1pm crowds finally breached the rear walls of the Muqata. Thousands poured into the compound. Palestinian Authority (PA) security men fired into tire air in a vain attempt to keep control. Their struggle to make Arafat's burial a dignified affair had been lost. This had become the people's event.
Crowds climbed onto walls, up electricity cable posts and into the few surrounding trees. Thousands of legs dangled from every rooftop. Drumming hands, masked and armed paramilitaries, Cub Scout groups and thousand upon thousand young men chanting the name Abu Amar jammed the streets.
At 2.15 a sudden crescendo in the chants signalled the appearance of three dots in the sky. Heads turned skyward, shrill whistling filled the air. "We sacrifice our blood and souls to you Abu Amar" they chanted.
As the Israeli escort peeled away to the North, the two Egyptian helicopters skimmed rooftops where television crews ducked low in billowing clouds of dust. When the coffin draped in the Palestinian flag finally appeared, it was instantly engulfed by the crowd. At one point disappearing from view, PA forces eventually wrestled it from the seething mass onto the roof a 4x4, which ploughed its way forward. Men dived or were pulled nut of its path by others. Standing on the coffin, soldiers fired their Kalashnikovs into the air frantically attempting to clear a path.
The body of Mohammed Abdul Rahman Abdul Raaf Ararat Al Qudna Al Husseini was finally layed to rest just feet from his destroyed headquarters where he had remained captive for nearly three years. The coffin was covered in soil brought from Harem al Sharif in Jerusalem, the capital of a Palestinian state he had dreamed of for 40 years bur didn't live to see.
At the grave, those PA soldiers sat crying among the wreaths of flowers and draped kaffeyas. The final prayers by Imam Yaqub Kiraish contained a clear message. "We vow to respect your will, to place a Palestinian flag on every house, church and mosque in Jerusalem. We will continue the march. We will make our blood like the water of Jerusalem."
The crowds had already begun to filter away. Most were returning home to break fast on the final day of Ramadan. "You witnessed two things today," said a man carrying his daughter under a hail of bullets, "our mourning the martyrdom of Abu Amar and our frustration with this life that Israel forces us to live. There will be no Eid celebrations this year in Palestine."
Successors to Arafat By Lawrence Joffe
NO SINGLE PERSON CAN hope to fill the shoes of Yasser Ararat--and perhaps that is no bad thing. For all that Ararat personified his people's cause, and despite his amazing ability to baffle and outwit his rims and define a consensus out of a clamour of disparate voices, he was also a notoriously autocratic ruler of the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Times of London likened Iris offices in Tunis and Gaza to a "strange medieval court", his battered Muqata headquarters in Ramallah to a "mad landscape". One of Arafat's last acts was to sign off long-delayed payments of salaries to PA workers. It is hard to imagine any successor similarly relegating citizens' basic rights to his personal whim.
Whoever succeeds the ra'is (president), it can be safely assumed that he will not possess Arafat's inimitable charisma, nor his extraordinary grasp over political affairs, even if he wished to ("he", because no women have thrown their hats into the ring).
But who might that "he" be? Yasser Arafat famously never prepared a successor, an omission that vexed both critics and erstwhile allies. Certainly there were putative "number twos" in the past. Most frequently mentioned were Abu Jihad (Khalil Al Wazir) and Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf). But the Israeli secret service, Mossad, killed the former in 1988, and pro-Iraqi Palestinians, possibly working for Abu Nidal, killed the latter in 1991.
Since then, no one of their stature threatened to topple the ra'is. Perhaps the only rival to Ararat was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of Fatah's chief competitors, the Islamist movement, Hamas. He was assassinated earlier this year, as was his successor, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, in quick succession.
SMOOTH INITIAL TRANSITION
That said, the Palestinian Basic Law is actually quite clear, at least about the initial stages of a succession. When the ra'is of the Palestinian Authority is incapacitated, or passes away, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) automatically takes over as interim president for a period of 60 days. The PLC is the legislative body of the Authority, and the current speaker is Rawhi Fatouh. Despite his anonymity, Fatouh assumed this interim posting with remarkable smoothness as soon as Arafat's death was announced on Thursday, 11 November.
What happens in the longer run is more of a mystery. For one thing, will--or can--Palestinians hold presidential elections after the allotted two-month period? On 14 November it was officially announced that elections would be held on 9 January 2005. Simultaneously the Fatah Central Committee convened and named Mahmoud Abbas as its candidate for the presidency.
In the past, divisions within Fatah ranks, plus Israel's effective occupation of all major Palestinian cities, have rendered elections impossible. Or so Arafat's allies used to claim. So what is different now? Certainly the logistics of registering voters seems insuperable in the short term, especially given the way Israeli checkpoints and the "Security Wall" divide Arab towns and villages from each other. Thus some Palestinian bureaucrats preferred amending the Basic Law, to postpone general elections, and instead merely get the PLC representatives to elect the new president of the Authority. This proposal, though, infuriated liberal politicians, like Salah Jawad Jadid, who saw it as yet another ruse to deny Palestinians democracy--hence the rushed announcement of impending polls.
On the selfsame day that Abbas was named official candidate, an incident in Gaza threw into doubt hopes for a smooth transition in the medium term. Abbas was visiting a mourners' tent for Ararat when suddenly armed Palestinian militiamen burst in and, shouting anti-Abbas slogans, released a volley of gunfire. Ahbas, unharmed, denied that this was an assassination attempt. However, two of his bodyguards are reported to have died, and the assailants escaped.
NO MORE THREE-IN-ONE
Arafat actually held three posts simultaneously. He was head of Fatah, president of the Palestinian Authority, (PA) and chairman of the PLO. It is scarcely conceivable that any one person could fill all these roles simultaneously. By common consent, the days of omniscient rule are over.
Only hours after Arafat's death was announced, his deputy as secretary-general of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas was named as the new chairman of the PLO. Meanwhile, the exiled veteran hardliner, Farouk Qaddumi, became leader of Fatah, Arafat's dominant faction within the PLO. Fatah also controls a majority of PLC members.
Qaddumi's appointment signalled a continuing role for the Diaspora, including millions of exiled refugees. It also boosted those, like Qaddumi, who never accepted the Oslo peace process in the first place. "Resistance is the path to arriving at a political settlement," he told Hizbullah's Al Manar television station on 11 November. Qaddumi's re-emergence may worry Israel and the US, who fear he could stifle hopes of resumed negotiations.
What seems to be emerging is a post-Ararat triumvirate, the third foot of which is held by Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala). He is currently PA Prime Minister, a post he inherited when the first appointee, Abu Mazen, resigned in September 2003. Qurei tellingly assumed additional powers over security and economic affairs as soon as Ararat was flown to his Parisian hospital.
Still, questions remain. Which of these three posts is the most senior? Which of these three personalities--if any--is most likely to prevail as the overall lace of Palestine? And how long will ordinary Palestinians tolerate rule by three veterans, all in various ways discredited by past miscalculations, when younger voices are striving to be heard?
By default Palestinian power-bearers have opted for an interim collective leadership. Presumably the division of powers would ward off the danger of one-man-rule. Conversely, a divided leadership could signal weakness, or at least excessive caution, at precisely the time when beleaguered Palestinians yearn for direction, and when poverty and unemployment are reaching dire levels.
REBELLION BY YOUTHFUL "INSIDERS"?
For the present, prevailing grief ensures no candidate has overtly claimed Arafat's full mantle. Yet prolonged collective leadership would be "a recipe for paralysis", wrote Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.
Long-standing resentment against Arafat's imported "Tunis set" boiled over earlier this year, with a mini-rebellion by youthful Fatah activists in Gaza. Time and popular sentiment may be against the veterans. And the announcement that the popular young leader of the Fatah Tanzim, Marwan Barghouti, may run against Abu Mazen--even though he sits in an Israeli jail--indicates a desire for sweeping change. "In the long run," added Shikaki, "the old guard has little chance of remaining in power unless it forges a coalition with young guard nationalists, organises national elections, and receives significant help from Israel and the United States."
Israel turned Ararat into a pariah, so virtually any replacement will improve chances for resumed peace talks. Optimists detected hopeful signs when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon apparently accepted that East Jerusalem Arabs could vote in the 9 January poll As Ibrahim Nafie put it in Al Ahram, "With Ararat gone, Sharon will have lost the pretext he used to justify freezing the peace process." However, too much help from Israel could spell the kiss of death for any Palestinian aspirant after lout years of Intifada.
Potential successors to Ararat fall into one of two broad categories. The Old Guard consists of veteran Fatah figures whose provenance goes back to Tunis, Beirut, or even to Kuwait in 1958, where the movement first germinated. These men include tire triumvirate of Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qurei and Faruuk Qaddumi.
By contrast, the Young Turks (for want of a better label) largely come from inside the West Bank and Gaza. They cut their teeth in the first Intifada, and amongst their number are Mohammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub and the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti.
Missing from either group are the middle generation, intellectual figures like Hanan Ashrawi, Sari Nusscibeh and Hana Siniora. Also in this category are minister and chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, Yasser Abed Rabbo (co-author of the Geneva Accords), the able finance minister, Salam Fayyad, and acting PA foreign minister, Nabil Shaath. Most of them straddle the worlds of academe, diplomacy and business. No doubt they will play a crucial role in whatever develops, but none commands the loyalty of the still active militias.
The future is probably less certain for those whose sole pedigree was their loyalty to the old chief: Men like Hisham Balawi, Mohammed Rashid and Nabil Abu Rudeineh. Finally, there is one dark horse candidate who in the event of possible future strife may be called on as a temporary unifying figure. That man it Dr Haidar Abdel-Shafi, who almost uniquely commands the respect of most Palestinians. Due to his advanced age and non-Fatah affiliations, however, be can only be a transitional figure at best.
Burn in Safad in 1935, and a founder member of Fatah, Abbas is officially--since mid-November--the new leader of the PLO. He headed the PLO department for national and international relations from 1980, and was considered in much of the Arab world as the brains behind the organisation. Abbas replaced his late mentor, Abu Iyad, as Arafat's deputy on the PLO executive committee. The Tunis-based Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen) was midwife to the Oslo talks. He was named prime minister in May 2003, following US, EU and Israeli pressure for far-reaching reforms. Intelligent and discreet, a believing Muslim respected by the West, Abbas resigned his post in September that year, frustrated both by perceived Israeli intransigence over implementing their side of the Road Map, and by Arafat's refusal to allow him autonomy. In particular, Abbas was vexed by Arafat's insistence on controlling security services.
In late 1995 Abbas and the Israeli former minister, Yossi Beilin, had devised a "framework agreement", but they only published it in September 2000. Controversial in many aspects, it envisaged a shared Jerusalem, and came closer to a joint position on final stares issues than any other official document. Notwithstanding his pedigree, Abu Mazen lacks Arafat's unique stature. Nor does he enjoy anything like Arafat's grassroots popularly, despite attempts to nurture ties to the new West Bank generation since 1995. A recent opinion poll revealed that only 5% of Palestinians in the Territories preferred him as leader. In 2003 he upset radicals when he suggested postponing or even dropping the refugee issue. In September this year he sharply criticised the use of arms during the current Intifada, citing its role in entrenching Sharon, ruining PLO ties with Washington, and devastating the Palestinian economy and welfare. The recent shooting incident in Gaza suggests that radical dissent to Abbas could be dangerous, even fatally so. Conversely, Jews and Israelis are still smarting over his earlier publications which queried the extent of the Holocaust, though he has since retracted these views. Jerusalem was also upset that he refused to dismantle Hamas and Al Aqsa Brigade militias, as per the Road Map; though Abbas feared doing so, without Israeli concessions in turn, would spark off an intra-Palestinian civil war. In a curious echo of the pairing of those old Israeli rivals, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, Abbas and Ahmed Qurei are currently presenting a surprisingly coherent joint front. But will it last?
Born in Jerusalem in 1937, Qurei (best known as Abu Ala) is Palestine's current prime minister. Though more decidedly an Arafat loyalist than his prime ministerial predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, he, too, proffered his resignation on a number of occasions. If anything he was even more intimately involved in the minutiae of the initial secret Oslo negotiations. He was also pivotal in assuring Oslo II--the interim agreement, which saw Israeli troops depart Nablus, Qalqilyah, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Tulkarm in late 1995. During 1996-2000 he was Speaker of the PLC, a thankless posting given tensions between legislators and President Ararat.
A banker by profession, Abu Ala has also been tarred with allegations of corruption. At first these concerned mismanaging of funds accrued since the 1970s, when he directed the PLO's economic activities in Lebanon, especially amongst refugees. More recently, foes charged his companies with providing the concrete to build Israel's "Security Wall". Qurei hardly shone as PA prime minister; he proved powerless to prevent Israeli raids on Gaza, did little to dismantle radical militias, and shied away from confrontation with his chief sponsor, Yasser Ararat. Yet he proved sly and nimble in assuming authority over security and economic matters when Arafat fell ill last month. And few Palestinians enjoy his business savvy, parliamentary sagacity or experience of negotiating with Israel. Without these qualities, it is hard to imagine how an independent, safe and viable Palestine can ever emerge.
Born in 1931 in Nablus, Qaddumi (or Abu Lutf) is another veteran of Fatah's formative years, who sat out the Oslo Accords, remained in Tunis, and is hence untainted by PA corruption. Nor did he make any deals with Israel or the United States. Once dismissed as hopelessly "rejectionist" in an age of compromise, he has long enjoyed support amongst refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. Now militant youth evidently back him too, though maybe more as a means of protesting the PA's perceived pusillanimous image. Appointed PLO "foreign minister" in 1988--when he cautiously accepted the two-state solution--he found himself displaced by PA appointee, Nabil Shaath, in 2002. There is little love lost between Qaddumi and Abbas, which augurs ill for the emerging collective leadership. Similarly, Qaddumi is likely to veto any peace deal that dispenses with a refugee "right of return". Even though he now officially heads Fatah, his lack of experience in PA territories surely undermines his ability to control members on the ground. But if the PA collapses entirely--and nothing can be ruled out--Qaddumi may be well placed to assume overall leadership of a PLO returned to its Diaspora origins.
Dr Haidar Abdel-Shafi
The former leader of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace talks of October 1991, Dr Abdel-Shafi was born in 1919, helped found the PLO in 1964, and played a key role in his native Gaza after Israeli occupation began in 1967. A former communist and head of the Palestinian Red Crescent, he was furious when the PLO appeared to hoodwink him by not informing him of the Oslo track talks. Abdel-Shafi advocates democracy, human rights and financial transparency, and lambasted abuses by Arafat's "Tunisian" coterie after the Authority was established in 1994. In January 1996 he notched up the largest tally of votes in the first PLC elections, yet came to regard the assembly as a supine talking shop. No-one disputes his integrity, an asset in a post-Ararat era. The doctor may be called upon to intercede with Hamas, whose threat to continue armed struggle may scupper plans for peace. Likewise, Abdel-Shafi's sagacious presence and good relations with Egypt and Jordan could calm nerves as (or if) settlers depart Gaza, as planned by Sharon, in late 2005. That said, his advanced age chums against him, as does his lack of ties with the West Bank wing of Fatah.
A close ally of Arafat's, Fatouh, born in 1957, is a PLC member for Gaza City and has been Speaker of the assembly since March 2004. In November he became acting replacement for Abu Amar as president, for 60 days pending elections, according to the terms of the Palestinian Basic Law. Fatouh was brought in as Speaker to replace the outgoing Rafiq Natsheh, of Hebron, whose three-month tenure was marked by criticism of Arafat's policies. He defeated his rival, Nabil Amr, by 51 votes to 15; yet his own term was marked by controversy in July 2004 he temporarily resigned his post in protest at the deteriorating security situation in the Gaza Strip. This came just weeks after his return from a successful visit to the UK, where he met British parliamentarians, and where his delegation gained tips on parliamentary procedure. A stable if unspectacular figure, the thickset and avuncular Fatouh probably does not harbour presidential ambitions himself. Nonetheless, his projected two-month spell in the limelight as acting president may bolster his future role as arbiter in a post-withdrawal Gaza.
Once regarded as head of Fatah in the West Bank, Rajoub became head of Jericho's Preventive Security Apparatus after 1993, and then Palestinian security chief for the entire West Bank after 1995. He was born in Hebron in 1953, spent 17 years in Israeli prisons until his release in 1985, and was deported in 1988. Moving to Tunis, he became a protege of Abu Jihad. During the Oslo period he sought to cultivate local West Bank cadres, but lost credibility when accused of human rights abuses. He was fired a year into the Al Aqsa Intifada when charged with fleeing his Ramallah headquarters after an Israeli incursion. Nonetheless, Rajoub proved a surprisingly adept political player, and returned to office in Arafat's latter years. Though unlikely to become supreme leader, his armed support may be crucial to the eventual successor.
At 45 Barghouti is almost certainly the most popular "young guard" leader. A poorer scion of a famous West Bank clan, he made his name in the first Intifada, learnt Hebrew in an Israeli prison, befriended Israeli peace activists after his release, and enthusiastically backed Oslo II in 1995. Barghouti also successfully registered voters prior to the January 1996 PLC elections, where he won the scat of Ramallah. His drive for democratisation of Fatah placed him at odds with Ararat and the old guard, yet boosted his grassroots support--and, in the process, the bitter enmity of Jibril Rajoub. Largely abandoning the PLC as a bogus institution, he became general secretary of the High Command of Fatah on the West Bank, sometimes dubbed the Tanzim. Barghouti then assumed effective leadership of the first phase of the Al Aqsa Intifada, after 2000, alarming former Israeli allies who regarded him as a "moderate". Though he claimed to target only soldiers and settlers, Israel blamed him for encouraging suicide bombings by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade against Israeli citizens within the 1967 borders.
Barghouti was arrested in 2002 and sentenced in 2004 to five consecutive life sentences for abetting acts of terror, charges he denies. Barghouti's case became a cause celebre, and some fans likened him to a young Nelson Mandela. Sceptics see him as an opportunist who abandoned his principles for the allure of street notoriety. In his courtroom defence, which he conducted himself, Barghouti reaffirmed his commitment to two states living side by side in harmony. More recently he praised Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan as the fruit of a successful Intifada. Judging by former opinion polls, which placed him second to Arafat in popularity, he stands a good chance if he does indeed run for president. But will Israel release him from his present incarceration? Unlikely, considering right-wing anger at Palestinian assailants--though some analysts cite the example of Ahmed Ben Bella being released on the eve of Algerian independence as a precedent.
Thought to be the preferred candidate of Israel, the US, and possibly Egypt, too, Dahlan was born in 1961 in Gaza's Khan Yunis refugee camp, the son of refugees from Hammama. An activist in the Fatah youth wing, the Shabiba, he was jailed repeatedly from 1981, and deported soon after the outbreak of the first Intifada. In 1987 he joined the PLO in Tunis. He negotiated secretly with Israelis, and then returned to Gaza with Ararat in 1994, gaining control of the main PA security force in the strip. Apart from Ararat himself, Dahlan is said to be the only other Palestinian leader to have enjoyed a private meeting with former US President Clinton. He tried but failed to reach agreement at the ill-fated Camp David talks in 2000, and also fell short of securing a ceasefire during the early days of the current Intifada. Latterly Israelis grew wary of his ties to the Tanzim (which they accuse of fomenting terror) while Palestinians felt he was colluding with Israel.
A proponent of PA reform and tough on Hamas, he failed in a bid to become interior minister in June 2002. He duly left the cabinet, though returned when his senior ally, Mahmoud Abbas, became prime minister in 2003. Dahlan, who holds a BA in Business Administration from the Islamic University of Gaza, was rumoured to be behind the anti-corruption rebellion earlier this year. Perhaps his dream of a unified security force will now come true. Being young, he can bide his time while waiting for the ultimate prize; in the interim, Dahlan, despite his recently reduced popularity, possesses the skill and will to manage a Gaza free of Israeli troops and settlers. And if Barghouti remains in jail, that might be just the springboard he needs to assume overall control in PA areas.
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|Title Annotation:||Current Affairs|
|Author:||Joffe, Lawrence; Lancaster, Pat; Stratford, Charles|
|Publication:||The Middle East|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2004|
|Previous Article:||The new generation.|
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