Accessibility links

Israelis Consider World Without Arafat, Palestinians Express Hope for His Return

Israeli and Palestinian officials held separate meetings, as both sides began planning for a future that may not include Yasser Arafat.

Israel's regular weekly Cabinet meeting took place as usual, and the issues under discussion would, under other circumstances, have been routine. What to do about Yasser Arafat has been a common topic for a succession of Israeli governments. But the particulars of this discussion were different, and focused on plans for burying the Palestinian leader, who is undergoing a battery of tests in a Paris hospital for a mysterious ailment.

Ariel Sharon was reported to have told Cabinet ministers that, as long as he is prime minister, he would never allow Mr. Arafat to be buried in Jerusalem. The Palestinian leader has long expressed the desire to be buried at the site known to Muslims as Haram a-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Israeli security officials worry that a funeral procession through Jerusalem would bring huge crowds, and create a situation that would be hard, if not impossible, to control. In anticipation of his death, Israel is also making contingency plans for how to handle the chaos that some predict will erupt, should various Palestinian factions begin fighting over who should succeed the Palestinian leader.

Many Israeli officials believe Mr. Arafat is so ill that he will never return to power.

Palestinian officials have maintained that while Mr. Arafat's health is a concern, initial testing at the hospital in Paris has shown his illness is not leukemia, and they say doctors have, so far, found no evidence of a life-threatening disease. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Mr. Arafat is much better, as he put it, more cheerful, more lively and less tired.

No Palestinian official has suggested anything other than Mr. Arafat would recover, and would return to office. Nor have they admitted publicly that they might be planning a path to follow, should Mr. Arafat die or be incapacitated. The Palestinian leadership has met during the past few days to reassure Palestinians that their institutions are functioning normally.

On Saturday, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting of the PLO, and on Sunday, current Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia chaired a meeting of the Palestine National Security Council. On both occasions, reporters were invited to the session, and, on both occasions, the chair normally occupied by Yasser Arafat was left vacant, seen as a sign that he is expected to return.