After losing consciousness on the night of November 3, Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat, 75, was treated by a team of Jordanian and Egyptian doctors and was in serious, but stable condition by the next morning. Following much speculation regarding his state of health, Arafat died one week later at 3:30 am on Thursday the 11. His death has many speculating as to the leadership changes that will inevitably take place and their effect on relations between the Palestinians and Israelites.
After falling ill, Arafat was moved from the compound in which he had been confined for nearly three years to a West Bank hospital in the city of Ramallah. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has kept Arafat trapped in the compound via threats that he would not be allowed to return should he leave, agreed in principle to allow Arafat to travel elsewhere for treatment, and stayed true to that promise.
In response to questions regarding the continuity of Palestinian leadership, Palestinian Communication Minister Azzam al-Ahmed told an Al-Jazeera satellite television station, “We are preparing ourselves for everything possible.”
Palastinian legislator said further that “it’s only natural to expect that there would be either a power struggle or there would be a loss of cohesion.”
At this point, speculation is running rampant, with every new bit of information that emerges being shot down by another source. Some predict that it could take many years before another president emerges. Those people believe that no decisions can be made with battle raging on, which means the chances of a negotiated peace are minimal.
One source claiming to be an official at Arafat’s office told Al-Jazeera news reporters that a special committee of three top officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, had been formed to handle Palestinian affairs. But other Palestinian officials were quick to deny the existence of such a committee.
Many Palestinians blame Arafat’s death on the conditions under which he has been forced to live and work, which, they say, have been forced upon him by Prime Minister Sharon. Israeli Officials met early on October 4, the day after Arafat fell ill to discuss contingency plans to provide for potential Palestinian riots and to prevent Palestinian attempts to bury Arafat in Jerusalem.
Their fear was in vain however, as Arafat’s funeral service was conducted at an airbase in Cairo. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak led the ceremonies with Palestinian and Arab leaders at his sides. Arafat was then transported, via helicopter, back to the compound in Ramallah where he was laid to rest amidst the chaos of thousands of grief- stricken followers. At least nine Palestinians were injured by shots fired by security forces who struggled to keep the crowds at bay in order to proceed with the ceremony.
Arafat had started his political life as an anti-Israeli gorilla, leading many attacks against the opposing nation that resulted in the deaths of tens-of-thousands of Israeli militants and civilians. He later became a third world liberation icon, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his interim peace deals with Israel’s then foreign minister Shimon Peres and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was later assassinated by a Jewish ultranationalist). But the peace ended abruptly in 2000 following a failed peace summit aimed at hatching a Palestinian state, pitching the region back into the throes of a holy-war. The United States sent Assistant Secretary of the State William Burns to the Cairo ceremony, despite their boycott of Arafat as an “obstacle to peace.”