The Israeli government says its army will take a restrained approach to military action until the Palestinian leadership situation becomes clear. After a cabinet meeting on Sunday, officials said they were working under the assumption Yasser Arafat will not return to the political arena. That is not the position being taken by the Palestinians. They insist their president is still very much in control, despite being treated at a French hospital.
The Palestinian Legislative Committee, National Security Council, and PLO executive committee have all met in a bid to show they can handle affairs in Arafat’s absence. But it is clear he has left a considerable power vacuum behind.
At the military medical centre near Paris where Arafat is being treated, doctors are checking him for a viral infection. It is believed tests have ruled out leukaemia and Palestinian sources say he is now sleeping better and keeping down his food. However, the rapid deterioration in his health has raised alarm bells, as Arafat has no clear successor. With well-wishers gathering outside the hospital, there are fears the Gaza Strip and West Bank could descend into chaos if Arafat is unable to return.