Prof Leguey-Feilleux: Hamas Seeks More Power after Arafat

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | November 10, 2004, Wednesday // 00:00
Prof Leguey-Feilleux: Hamas Seeks More Power after Arafat Professor Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, Professor at Political Sciences, St Louis University, USA.

An observer of the Middle East for three decades, Professor Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux is a nationally recognized expert on terrorism, international law, diplomacy and Middle East policy. Born in Marseilles, France, he is now teaching Political Sciences in the St Louis University, USA.

Prof Leguey-Feilleux talked to Sofia News Agency Editor Ivelina Puhaleva about the future of the Middle East after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Q: How would Arafat's absence affect the Middle East?

A: Arafat is a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian independence. The Palestinian people will see his death as a grievous loss. In terms of practical politics, it must be recognized that Arafat's power has seriously decreased over the last three years. The Oslo process did not produce the expected results.

With the arrival of Ariel Sharon, much of what was accomplished in the peace negotiations was undone. The Israeli military is in charge and Arafat became a virtual prisoner in Ramallah. Thus, a policy of negotiation with Israel lost popular credibility and Hamas' violence was increasingly seen as the only meaningful alternative.

Q: Who is likely to succeed Arafat in the Palestinian Authority (PA)?

A: Under the PA basic law, the Speaker of Parliament, Rawhi Fattoub, is in charge until the next elections, which are to be held two months later. In fact, Fattoub joined Abbas and Qurei on their mission to Paris to ascertain Arafat's medical condition. But Fattoub is not widely known among the Palestinians and has no political base.

Q: How will political power be rearranged upon Arafat's death?

A: A struggle for power is obviously already under way. This may have destabilizing consequences among Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was very close to Arafat and would be a very capable President, if elected. He negotiated the Oslo agreement and signed it for Arafat.

But he does not have Arafat's political savvy. He does not support terrorism. He is strongly committed to Palestinian independence and in this regard can be viewed as a tough negotiator. But will the Palestinian people trust him? Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), the current Prime Minister was also very close to Arafat, conducted the early part of the Oslo negotiations before Abbas was sent to Oslo.

Probably does not have the stature of Abbas. Even as prime minister, Arafat remained in charge. Does he have a political following of his own? Probably not.

And what about Hamas? They are not going to take the succession sitting down. Hamas will remain the vanguard of the violent revolution. They undoubtedly want to affect the succession. They may negotiate with the Arafat associates to have greater power in the future PA system.

Q: What would be the impact of Arafat's death on the Middle East?

A: Then PLO will have to select its next leader. Who will the PLO Council select? Al Fatah (Arafat's own movement) remains the main movement in the PLO. Who will Al Fatah choose as its new leader? It is too early to tell who will come forward. Hamas, of course, has long been the enemy of the PLO.

It is possible that whoever is selected to be President of the PA will be in a commanding position to head Al-Fatah and the PLO.

Whoever is selected to head the PA will be accepted by Middle East nations as representing the Palestinian people (unless the electoral process us tempered with by Israel or the United States). Abbas would probably do well in relating to the rest of the Arab world.

Q: What does it mean for the future of the Palestinian cause? Challenges, which lie ahead?

A: Much depends upon whether the Israelis want to seize the moment and negotiate a meaningful agreement with the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon is the least likely leader to do it. If Jerusalem remains non-negotiable, an agreement is unlikely.

If the settlements cannot be touched, how can there be a viable Palestinian state? Negotiations can be undertaken, but their outcome remains unpromising. The Palestinians, of course, are not about to abandon their quest for independence. In the absence of a peace settlement terrorist attacks against Israel will continue.

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