Hope rules for many after death of Arafat

Zach Fridell

The death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat early Thursday morning has created a power struggle in the Middle East as Palestinians search for a new head of state.

Arafat’s body was moved to Egypt Thursday afternoon, after his death early that morning in a Paris hospital. Arafat was hospitalized Oct. 29 and suffered brain damage, and liver and kidney failure.

Arafat, the 75-year-old head of the Palestinian independence movement, did not name a successor. Former prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has been appointed president of the Palestine Liberation Organization and is poised to take over Arafat’s role.

Some Northwestern students with Palestinian ties said Arafat’s death allows for the prospect of a much-needed, more successful leader.

“Early on, generations ago, Arafat did good for his people, but lately he hasn’t been effective,” said Weinberg sophomore Anis Harb, whose grandmother is Palestinian. “It’s almost better if he goes.”

Other students active in the Middle Eastern Students Association who classify themselves as Palestinian declined to comment.

It’s hard to imagine what direction regional politics will take with Arafat’s departure, said history Prof. Carl Petry.

“He is obviously a very complex figure now because he is accused of never bargaining in good faith, which he might have done,” Petry said. “What he represented was that he could never be removed.”

The refusal of the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to work with Arafat led to the Palestinian leader’s final years being spent in isolation, Petry said.

“The Sharon government reached the conclusion that he was no better than a terrorist,” Petry said.

Arafat had negotiated several times with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in Maryland and with the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo, Norway, but all of the prospects for peace failed.

“It’s good for the Palestinian people too,” said Hillel Rabbi Michael Mishkin. “Because another leader in his place might have made peace with Israel when Israel offered it.”

Since Arafat’s death, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have worked together to coordinate the burial, including security measures for the funeral ceremony in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Mishkin said he hoped the cooperation after Arafat’s death signifies renewed interaction between the two groups.

“It looks like Palestinians are doing a good job of making it a smooth transition,” Mishkin said. “And it looks like the Israelis are working with the Palestinians in some areas.”