The world’s Number One terrorist to some -a freedom fighter to his supporters – Yasser Arafat was the embodiment of Palestinian resistance to Israel.
A Nobel peace laureate – Arafat held all the reins of Palestinian power. It was never easy but somehow he combined charisma and cunning to achieve a national consensus among rival factions. But after his death, a bitter power struggle erupted preventing almost any progress towards his goal of a Palestinian state. Mahmoud Abbas took over from Arafat and was widely seen as a moderate by Western leaders. He also enjoyed cordial relations with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. But tensions between Fatah and the rival Islamist Hamas group transformed into fierce fighting two years ago when their respective security forces clashed over control of Gaza – a battle won by the Islamists. Egyptian-led efforts to reconcile the two sides have so far produced no results with Hamas refusing to sign up to Egyptian proposals accepted by Fatah but Hamas officials have denied stalling on an agreement. Abbas’s popularity has also plunged in the West Bank and Gaza in the aftermath of Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter. He is under fire from his own people for suspending any action over a UN report alleging Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. But perhaps the reason he is considering resigning is a perceived lack of support from the United States over Israel’s continued settlement programme. Eitherway, critics believe it is high time for a change. The Head of the Palestinian Polls Centre, Nader Said, said: “Palestinians are not as interested now in individual leaders who seem to be liked and condoned by the international comunity. They are interested in someone who can actually change the situation and that someone would have to be amenable to the United States, Israel and therefore Palestinians.” One of the most popular candidates to replace Abbas would be the jailed fomer West Bank Fatah official, 49-year old Marwan Barghouti who was jailed for life in 2002 for his part in fatal Palestinian attacks. His refusal to recognise Israel’s right to try him has only increased his popularity. Barghouti’s defiance has enhanced his reputation and he may run for office from prison. But Fatah insiders are promoting former UN diplomat Nader Al-Kidwa. Free of corruption allegations that surround Fatah, he also has the additional benefit of being Yasser Arafat’s nephew which may help seal a reconciliation deal with Hamas.