State for Palestinians and Peace With Israel Left Unrealized
By JAMES BENNET and STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: November 11, 2004
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RAMALLAH, West Bank, Thursday, Nov. 11 - Yasir Arafat, the
Palestinian leader, died early Thursday morning in a Paris hospital, a
French military spokesman announced.
Mr. Arafat, who was the symbol of the Palestinian revolution and
aspiration for an independent state for some 40 years, died at about
3:30 a.m. Paris time of complications from an unknown disease after
lingering in a coma for days, as his wife and closest aides struggled
over his political and financial legacy.
Mr. Arafat will be buried in Ramallah, on the West Bank, in the Muqata,
an old British fortress he used as his headquarters and where he spent
the last three years confined to his compound by the Israelis.
His body will first be flown to Cairo for a memorial service on Friday,
a ceremony most Arab and world leaders are expected to attend so that
they do not have to pass through Israeli border controls. Then,
Palestinian officials said, Mr. Arafat will be buried here on Saturday,
near his headquarters, from which he was airlifted to a French hospital
on Oct. 29.
Palestinian officials quickly confirmed the death of their leader as
small groups gathered outside the Muqata in a reddish dawn to mourn his
passing. Early Thursday, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, the secretary general of the
presidency, confirmed the death and said that Mr. Arafat "planted the
seeds of hope for his people."
"The Palestinian leadership mourns Yasir Arafat," he said.
"We mourn with our people, with the Arab nation, with the whole of
humanity," he said, the loss of "the tutor, the leader, the son of
Palestine, its symbol, the builder of its modern nationalism and the
hero of its battle for freedom and independence."
As he finished, saying: "Glory to you, our leader," Mr. Rahim broke into
Mr. Arafat died with the Palestinians still in a limbo of semistatehood,
a final peace with the Israelis unachieved and a lingering intifada
against Israel that has seen the deaths of thousands of Israelis and
Palestinians over the last four years.
The Israelis regarded him as a terrorist and an obstacle to peace, but
Mr. Arafat held all the power of the Palestinians in his hands - the
presidency, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization and
of its largest movement, Fatah. But he groomed no successor, and he kept
many secrets to himself, including the full range of the billions of
dollars in Palestinian assets held in many joint accounts under his
Jibril Rajoub, the national security adviser, said: "The Arafat era is
over. But the loyalty and commitment to his march, connected to building
the state and ending the occupation, are the responsibility of every
Mr. Rajoub, speaking on Al Jazeera television, then sent a further
message to Palestinians, asking for stability. "The coming phase should
be one of institutions and laws, working through existing institutions,
whether strong or not," he said.
Under the rules of the Palestinian Authority, the speaker of the
parliament, Rawhi Fattouh, will serve as acting president until new
elections are held for the post within the next 60 days.
Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian minister, urged the United States to work
with the Palestinians and with Israel to ensure that "free and fair
elections" could take place.
Mr. Arafat's lingering death allowed his putative successors, most
prominently Mahmoud Abbas, the secretary general of the P.L.O., and
Ahmed Qurei, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, to
organize themselves. They are working in tandem, and are trying to reach
out to other, younger Palestinians with more power and street
Mr. Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, is expected to take over the P.L.O. and
Fatah, while Mr. Qurei, known as Abu Ala, will continue as prime
minister but with more authority over the day-to-day running of
[The Associated Press reported Thursday that Mr. Abbas was elected
chairman of the P.L.O. within hours of Mr. Arafat's death.]
But there is bound to be a struggle for the Palestinian leadership over
time, with a younger generation of militants and reformers pressing for
a larger voice in Palestinian affairs, and hard choices coming about
whether to try to absorb militants like Hamas or to confront them and
try to make peace with Israel.
Israel's president, Moshe Katsav, expressed hope that Mr. Arafat's death
would allow his successors a fresh start with Israel, Agence France-Presse
reported. "I hope that the new Palestinian leadership will take a new
path with a view to putting an end to terrorism and violence, which
would allow a resumption of negotiations," he said.
But Hamas said Mr. Arafat's death would only strengthen its resolve to
keep up attacks against Israel, Reuters reported. "The loss of the great
leader will increase our determination and steadfastness to continue
jihad and resistance against the Zionist enemy until victory and
liberation are achieved," it said.
Mr. Abbas and Mr. Qurei will have to move quickly to try to restore
credibility in the Palestinians' tattered institutions and provide
security on the streets.
Outside the Muqata, Khalik Rimawi, 21, said he had waited all night for
news. "I wanted to be in solidarity with my president," he said,
trembling. "With the loss of our president we lost all confidence and
trust we might have for anyone who might come after him. He personally
was the symbol of the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause, and when
he spoke, it was as if the whole nation were speaking."
His friend, Muhammad al-Hamoud, also 21, works in a dairy. "I feel there
is a big gap, an emptiness," he said. "We'll stay until they bury the
In Gaza City, hundreds of people took to the streets after the
announcement of Mr. Arafat's death. Some shot volleys of gunfire into
the air; others burned tires, and smoke filled the air. Hamas, which
considers the Palestinian Authority illegitimate, offered its
Mr. Arafat's death came after Palestinian leaders spent much of
Wednesday planning the succession in meetings in Ramallah.
There was a debate about whether to hold elections to replace Mr. Arafat
as president of the authority within 60 days of his death, as the
authority's basic law demands.
Some argued that an election would be too difficult and risky and might
not be carried out in time, especially with Israeli troops
intermittently occupying parts of the West Bank and Gaza. It would be
better, they said, for the legislature, the Palestinian Legislative
Council, to select a president instead.
But the leadership decided to follow the basic law and hold an election,
said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator. American officials favor
an election as the best way to establish legitimacy quickly, the State
Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said in Washington. He said
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke on Tuesday with Nabil Shaath,
one of Mr. Arafat's aides, "about the situation as it was and what plans
were being made."
President Bush said that with a new Palestinian leadership that asks for
help in building a democratic, free society, "there will be an opening
When that happens, Mr. Bush said, "the United States of America will be
more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free
society to emerge so that the Palestinians can have their own state."
"The vision is of two states, a Palestinian state and Israel living side
by side," he said, "and I think we've got a chance to do that, and I
look forward to being involved in that process."
Mr. Abbas is expected to run for the presidency as the candidate of
Fatah, the largest faction in the P.L.O., said Edward Abington, a former
American diplomat and now a consultant to the Palestinian Authority. But
Mr. Abbas may face strong challenges from more popular, militant
candidates who may have the tacit support of groups like Hamas.
"Even if he wins with 60 percent of the vote," a senior Israeli official
said, "and a Hamas-supported candidate gets 40 percent, do you think
Hamas will then accept what he says?"
The Israeli government wanted Mr. Arafat to be buried in the Gaza Strip,
far from Israel proper and the place where his father and sister are
buried. But in the cabinet debate on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon asked if anyone, including the army and the intelligence
agencies, objected to the Ramallah burial site. No one did, Israeli
Instead, there was agreement that the first request of Mr. Abbas as
putative heir should be acceded to. An Israeli official said the
Americans had urged the Israelis to accept Ramallah for Mr. Abbas's
The Israeli Army will coordinate the burial plans, the cabinet decided,
but will stay out of Ramallah. In a statement, the cabinet said: "The
responsibility for maintaining security and public order in Ramallah
during the funeral and after it falls on the Palestinians.""