Yasser Arafat Dies
The rest of the world has been deeply impacted by the death of Arafat, as state leaders from across the globe expressed their condolences and hopes for the future. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin offered his sympathy to Mr. Arafat's family and urged calm in the coming weeks. Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew will attend the services in Cairo this Friday.
The location of the funeral and burial has been an issue of contention over the last few days. Israel has been adamant that Arafat will not be allowed to be buried in Jerusalem, the tradition site of burial for Palestinian Kings. Instead, Arafat will be buried in the Gaza strip. However, complicating matters is the fact that many guests at the funeral would be anxious entering an area controlled by Israel. As such, Egypt has volunteered to host services for Arafat on Friday in Cairo. There do remain concerns, however, that there may be attempts to 'force' the funeral procession into Jerusalem. One Palestinian official was recently quoted as saying that as long as the body got near Jerusalem "the youth will do the rest". The Israeli military is mobilizing for a 'dignified funeral', but the potential for conflict is still high.
In fact, the potential for conflict in the region has increased dramatically in the wake of Arafat's death. The Palestinian refused to groom a successor and only named a Prime Minister when forced to by the United States in 2003. Even so, his relationships with the two PMs who have served since then have been strained. Arafat's first PM, Abu Abbas, has been named the new leader of the PLO until new elections sixty days from now. There is great potential for violence between now and then. Arafat's force of personality kept the various Palestinian groups unified, but in his absence there is great concern that the territories may fall in to civil war.
Despite all the concerns that Chairman Arafat's death presents, the simple fact is that it is also a beacon of hope. Since the renewed intifada, Yasser Arafat has been isolated and the Middle East Peace movement has been stalled. Whether you believe Arafat was a patsy for the Bush administration to avoid dealing with the issue or a terrorist mastermind is moot. The fact of the matter is that Arafat has been an obstacle to peace. Now, without Arafat's presence, Israel and the United States will be forced to return to the bargaining table. After 37 years of constant struggle perhaps now, finally, we can see peace in the Middle East.