The election to succeed Yasser Arafat was officially launched this morning.The election is being held on January 9th. There are seven candidates running for President of the Palestinian Authority but there seems to be little suspense. The man expected to win easily is Mahmoud Abbas, the acting leader since Arafat died last month. He was one of Arafat’s closest allies. That is likely to be his major selling point ahead of the election. Since Arafat’s death tension has eased between the Palestinians and Israelis. The scene in Bethlehem last night reflected that. The Israelis allowed Abbas to attend Christmas mass there. It was the first time since Christmas 2000 that any senior Palestinian leader had been allowed in. Since the second uprising the Israelis had kept Arafat out of the town.