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Arafat’s Succession: the Transition of Power


Yasser Arafat's death raises considerable speculation about who will ultimately succeed him as leader.

On paper, the Palestinian transition of power is quite clear: the speaker of the parliament - Rawhi Fattouh - temporarily becomes president. Mr. Fattouh, who was sworn in Thursday, must organize elections within 60 days.

Former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a reformer, was elected chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinians' highest decision-making body.

Current Prime Minister Ahmed Queria, another leading moderate, is expected to remain in charge of day-to-day governing.

Hardliner Farouk Kaddoumi was named head of Fatah, the dominant faction within the PLO. He lives in exile, having rejected past peace deals with Israel.

Despite these steps, Ambassador Philip Wilcox, a former diplomat in Jerusalem and now President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington, DC, believes the transition could be chaotic.

AMBASSADOR PHILIP WILCOX, PRESIDENT, THE FOUNDATION FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE

"There isn't any natural successor, Arafat took great pains to avoid grooming a successor."

The other concern among analysts is that a long, drawn out fight for control of the Palestinians could damage Israel, the peace process, or both. Tamara Wittes is a Middle East Analyst at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

TAMARA WITTES, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

"And if violence does breakout in the West Bank and Gaza, or if some Palestinian factions decide to use violence against Israel as a way of establishing their own internal credibility, that could really harm the prospects for restarting the peace process."

Others see this as an opportunity for a new Palestinian leader, who wouldn't bear the terrorist stigma that Mr. Arafat had in the eyes of the Israelis, to take constructive steps towards peace

But there are others who could fight for control. Nabil Shaath, a former businessman, is now the Palestinian foreign minister and has been touted as a potential replacement for Mr. Arafat. Mr. Shaath was the first senior Palestinian official to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002.

Mohammed Dahlan has also been mentioned as a possible successor. He is the former security chief in Gaza and one of the youngest Palestinian leaders. The pro reform politician grew up in Egypt where he joined Palestinian activists fighting against Israeli rule of Gaza.

But the most popular contender among Palestinians is Marwan Barghouti, who is currently in an Israeli jail serving five consecutive life sentences for masterminding several suicide bombings in Israel. Before his arrest in 2002, he was a major figure in the intifada, and his conviction only bolstered his popularity among Palestinians.

Yet none of those men match Yasser Arafat's status among Palestinians as the unrivaled symbol of their cause. On the other hand, Israel and the United States saw Mr. Arafat as an obstacle to peace. Many analysts believe his replacement by new leadership could open the door to renewed peace talks.

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