The main issue confronting the Palestinian people nowadays, is not the death of President Arafat even though there maybe a consensual sense of grief amongst all Palestinians for the lose of the symbol of their national liberation figure. The issue that should be addressed is the many responsibilities that President Arafat was holding in his hands are greater than a single position, and the destiny of a whole nation is at a crossing point that might lead to a deteriorating situation. The issue that must be addressed is how to avoid an internal conflict and how best to stabilize the situation inside the territories. Any new leadership will have to deal with a diversity and complexity of the internal reality and external relations. It is clear that a new leadership means a new start and a possible new era.
It was so obvious that the conflict regarding Arafat’s replacement had started months ago, even before the illness of President Arafat. There is keen awareness that the post-Arafat situation has the potential to lead to chaos and anarchy, thus it is stressed that any authority without sufficient public support and without legitimacy will create a state of anomie. The sequence of contradictory statements that dealt with the illness of the President enforced the belief there is division within the Palestinian leadership and that personal interests are guiding their judgments.
In order to avoid a horrible internal conflict or the worst, a civil war; the Palestinian leadership has to take over and to lead the nation without waiting for a death announcement by Suha or someone else. The new leadership should hold power for a transitional period only, working mainly on how to prevent a catastrophe from happening. The focus should not be who is going to be the successor or the next leader. With the latest ludicrous statement of Suha Arafat demanding positions within the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian authority and 50% of Arafat’s money, exposing her real intentions, proves that the situation is already chaotic.
Many people, Palestinians and Israelis, and internationally started making their own assessments and nominating names, (who is the best to replace Arafat) without thinking of the legitimacy of the successor. Legitimacy is essential for any successor. We should bear in mind that any successor has to be constituted with authorities as well as addressing the question of who is legitimately responsible for constituting authorities. These voices are promoting a despotic leadership or they are seeking a de facto autocracy. Any successor has to gain the support of the people. How can any leader gain that without giving the people the right to choose?
Who has that authority? Is it the PA or the PLO or the Fateh Central committee? Who is able to decide what is best for the Palestinian people?
Fateh cannot nominate a successor to lead the Palestinians, but it can nominate or select who is going to lead Fateh movement. The PLO cannot nominate or choose the successor of the president, but they can select a new leader for the PLO. In fact, it is the PLO that has been the source of authority for the PA and its responsibilities for the Palestinian people in the territories. The only legitimate forum within the PA is the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). This is the only legitimized elected body with governing responsibilities and authorities for the Palestinian people in the territories. Recognizing that, the PLC should be the proper body to declare that President Arafat is no more capable of leading the nation. The second stage would be to declare a transitional period of 60 days as it is constituted in the PA Basic Law. During the interim period a new election law should be ratified together with the Palestinian constitution, which will set down the rules by which the Palestinian people will chose their leadership. This is the right and the responsibility of the Palestinian people, not the Americans nor the Europeans nor the Israelis. The Palestinian people must be able to select their representatives and their new parliament according to law, a step that would also be considered as implementing the road map.
The vacuum that might occur after Arafat is not due to the absence of leadership or individuals, it is due to the absence of law and legitimacy, and therefore, it must be the priority to create and find this legitimacy. It would be impossible to find a replacement for Arafat, he was a unique individual who is impossible to replace.
The coming leadership has to be ready to answer the postponed questions and demands of the people for reforms, enforcement of law and order, the enforcement of an independent judiciary, eliminating corruption, the militias, the multiplicity of security forces and their commands, the unification of the security apparatus, the secret bank accounts, the relation between the PLO and PA. Beyond all of that, the most important responsibility for the coming leadership is democracy and democratic processes in Palestinian political life. This is a priority that has to be dealt with before even thinking of the future relations with Israel and before resuming any peace talks.