Yasir Arafat appears, once again, to have held off challenges to his rule. But his latest victory does not answer the question of what will happen when he finally does leave the political scene.
When Arafat was seriously ill in 2003, Palestinians were near panic. Ahmad Dudin, former Fatah leader in Hebron, summed up the dilemma this way: "The Palestinian Authority has always been a one-man operation. Arafat never really agreed to share power. That is the problem." Not only does Arafat have no designated successor, but he has crippled the creation of institutions that could provide for a smooth transition, develop new leaders, mediate disputes among competing candidates and factions, or check the power of a future dictator.
But at some point, Arafat will depart. He is 74 years old, and cannot be described as healthy. Arafat's ability to symbolize the Palestinian cause throughout the world has worn thin in recent years, but any successor would be more obscure.