The Arafat Succession Scramble

To understand what the Palestinian cause will look like without Yasir Arafat, consider the various titles that he currently holds. Arafat is Chairman of the PLO executive Committee, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Commander-in-chief of the Palestinian forces, and head of the Fatah movement.

The PLO embodies Palestinian national aspirations for independence and statehood. It is the highest political body for all Palestinians, both those living in Palestine and the refugees and other Palestinians in the diaspora. Arafat’s successor will need to juggle between negotiations with Israel, which will require concession on refugees’ “right of return” to Palestine, and the aspirations of more than three million Palestinians who wish to come back to the homes from which they were expelled in the wars of 1948 and 1967.

Arafat’s successor as President of the Palestinian National Authority will be bound by the Oslo Accords, which created an interim government, now headed by Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei, that is responsible for the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians will have to decide whether to make the position of PNA president a powerful one or merely symbolic, as it now is. The latter option would make Qurei an empowered prime minister, which is what many Palestinians and others want.

The position of the commander of the Palestinian forces supposedly puts the various Palestinian military, security, and intelligence units under one leader, who is expected to ensure the rule of law. But these forces are now in disarray, with most uniformed Palestinian security agencies needing to be reorganized after four years of intensive effort by Israel to crush them.