THE DAY AFTER ARAFAT...

In the eyes of the Israelis, Arafat was the main terrorist during the 1970s. In the 1990s he turned into the main peacemaker and finally in 2000 he became the main initiator of the second Palestinian Intifade and before that the founder of the military movement Fatah, the so-called Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade.

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana has prepared an analysis of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict after the death of Yasser Arafat especially for the December issue of »Defence Monthly«, the Slovenian specialist magazine dealing with military and defence issues.

In the eyes of the Israelis, Arafat was the main terrorist during the 1970s. In the 1990s he turned into the main peacemaker and finally in 2000 he became the main initiator of the second Palestinian Intifade and before that the founder of the military movement Fatah, the so-called Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade.
The Israelis perceived Arafat's death quite optimistically, hoping that this would bring a start to a new era in the history marked by peace and constitution of the Palestinian state. However, this optimism is a simplification of a complex conflict which has been present in the Middle East for more than half a century. Arafat represented namely only a part of the problems and is not to be blamed for all the open issues, although he was (one of the fundamental) stones in the mosaic of the conflict which comprises Israel, the Palestinian organisations, the Arab states, the USA and the UN. Arafat leaving the political scene of the Middle East may to a certain extent certainly represent a stimulus and a positive movement, although it can not automatically resolve all the accumulated problems from the past.
Now is the turn of the Palestinian leaders. First they have to deal with the most difficult task: fill in the complete political vacuum after Arafat's death and divide his duties (most probably) between the future president and prime minister and the PLO.
The IFIMES International Institute is of the opinion that the Palestinian unity will be one of the key (most delicate) issues of the post-Arafat period. Various fractions within and outside of the PLO are extremely disunited in their efforts to achieve just peace. Their moderate leaders such as Mahmud Abas (Abu Mazen), Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala) and Mohamed Dahlan are for example more realistic in comparison with the radicals gathered in the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade within Fatah as well as in Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It may hardly be expected that Arafat's successor would invent the magic formula to achieve consensus between the above and other less prominent political fractions if even the most charismatic Palestinian leader failed at it.
Many times in history President Arafat decided to sacrifice an opportunity for the sake of consensus among the fractions. The last such missed opportunity was perhaps the 2000 peace plan of President Clinton. Today almost all Palestinian political groups agree with the thesis that they missed the golden chance by refusing that offer and opened the door to violence, car bombs and other suicidal attacks which led to the occupation of almost the whole of the West Bank, caused thousands of victims and destroyed the Palestinian economy.
Arafat's successors are facing ordeals which will be cruel and bloody for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The first episode of this known story can already be foreseen: Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the Al-Aqsa Brigades will boycott the elections. This would be the first rebellion against the new leadership and it may even be followed by assassinations of moderate Palestinian leaders, attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem etc. The consequences of this scenario will be: Israel will blame the moderate leadership in Ramala, the world will condemn the leadership for their passiveness and the militant fractions will accuse the leadership of betraying the national interests. The results can also be foreseen: endless spiral of violence which will strengthen the position of radical organisations, especially in the historical time of unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza. For Israel Gaza is of strategic importance in the military and political terms while for the radical organisations it represents the major victory of their politics and the defeat of Israel, similar to Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000.
It is perhaps the moderate politician and president of PLO, Abu Mazen, who has most accurately anticipated the bloody future: In his interview for the Israeli newspaper "Maariv" he called Israel not to give occasion to the militants to take the initiative and to stop any kind of interference of Israel into the process of selecting the Palestinian president, for this would represent the motive for the militants to accuse the future president of high treason. The first positive sign from Israel has been the report of the national security council proposing the plan of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in co-ordination with the Palestinian moderate leadership.
A few days after this interview, the popular radical leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigade, Marwan Al-Barguthi, who is imprisoned with five life sentences, announced his candidature for the Palestinian president. This was followed by a rather disputable statement by the Israel's Minister of the Interior, Avraham Boraz, that Israel may under certain conditions grant amnesty to Al-Barguthi. As a possible precedent Boraz mentioned the exchange of prisoners with Hezbolah and the movement of Ahmad Jebreel.
The experts in the Middle East processes and some analysts nevertheless believe that Marwan Al-Barguth is not a political prisoner and that he was sentenced on the basis of evidence charging him with numerous suicidal attacks in Israel. Boraz's statement therefore represents direct interference in the Palestinian interior affairs and open support to the militants to take over the power in the democratic way which can only lead to increased violence.
The IFIMES International Institute believes that the solution to the present situation would be to establish a (Palestinian) core negotiating team which would immediately start the negotiations with Israel. The team would gain support at the referendum which could be carried out together with the presidential elections. The negotiating team must state realistic demands such as the return of the 1948 refugees, the borders of the future Palestinian state and the solution of the final status of Jerusalem.
Arafat's successors should start to examine as soon as possible the financial position of the autonomous authorities. It is known that financial minister Salam Fayadh had only limited access to financial transactions, while Arafat's main financial adviser Mohamed Rasheed had unlimited authorisations without any control of the government and the legislative council (parliament). According to the analysts' estimations Arafat had two to five billion dollars in special accounts! The late Palestinian leader opposed any institutional actions especially in the financial field where enormous confusion has resulted in vast corruption. The period after the Oslo Peace Agreement, especially after the second Intifade in 2000, was marked by lack of transparency and consistency between various institutions, for example between PLO and the government, and by the undefined role of various security organisations.
Co-operation between some Palestinian fractions in the political process: The Islamistic movements have been marginalised and not included in PLO nor in the autonomous government. However, PLO should not underestimate the real importance of those fractions and their influence on the future situation. The participation of 200,000 Palestinians from east Jerusalem at the presidential elections should be obligatory. The voting could be carried out by post as was the case at the 1996 elections. The status of Palestinian voters from east Jerusalem is similar to the status of tens of thousands of American citizens in Israel who vote at American elections.
The Palestinian people should decide about their future on their own without the Arab states trying to exert their influence. The path to the establishment of the Palestinian state is not paved by paroles and posters of the Arab regimes which misuse the Palestinian tragedy to regulate their domestic problems and stifle any call for democracy. The Palestinians are aware that the small Israeli state has defeated all the Arab states thanks to the level of democracy it has achieved, the economic development, equality of citizens before the law, transparency and fight against corruption in which it did not spare even Prime Minister.



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