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French Version

Palestinian refugees : One eye on Arafat, another on the future

News of the rapidly deteriorating health condition of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat spread dramatically this week among the Palestinian refugees of Jordan, leaving them with sentiments of shock and disbelief. Arafat’s fight for life at a Paris military hospital touched many Palestinians—in Jordan and throughout the world—who regarded it as “an ill-fitting end for a legendary life”.

For Emad Ramadan, a middle-aged refugee at the Wihdat Camp southeast of Amman, Arafat’s departure would open the door for severe political changes in the Palestinian structure, and those changes “can go either way—better or worse.” “
Some referred to it as “the last battle for Arafat—a battle that he could not win”, and now they contemplate the future of their pro-independence struggle against Israel.

Time has come for us to review our perspectives in order to maintain our national unity,” Ramadan said. Many Palestinians still regard Arafat “the symbol of the revolution” and even when the only leader they’ve known is gone, the struggle remains. Ramadan, like many Palestinians, refuses to give names of possible candidates for leadership, but said, “Anyone who wishes to guide the Palestinians in the future must take lessons from Arafat.”

Names like Abbas, Qurei and Dahlan, former chief of the Palestinian security bureau in Gaza, emerged in the recent days as possible heirs to assume presidency. Refugees in Jordan discarded speculations that there would be domestic clashes among Palestinians to claim leadership.

“The Palestinian people are smarter than this,” said Abu Abdallah, a refugee in the Baqaa camp, adding that some high-ranking officials at the PNA “will be interested in the post, but I am sure it will not be easy for any Palestinian leader to take office without his people’s consent.”

Ramadan, however, sees no difference in life after Arafat. “The hope is still there, and the Israelis would leave our homeland one day for good. Trust me,” he maintained. Abu Abdallah, on his part, slandered Arafat’s wife, Suha, “for flaring-up differences in public”. “No one denies there are differences between Palestinians, the same way differences will be found in any nation in the world,” he said. “But the way this lady has behaved was totally wrong,” he noted. Suha Arafat made a surprising announcement to the Palestinian people Monday, asking them to stop the “conspiracy” against her husband, which she suggested would be perpetrated by his top aides Ahmad Qurei, Mahmoud Abbas and Nabil Shaath, who all want “to bury Yasser Arafat alive”.

Criticism was also heard among Palestinians for the way that PNA officials have dealt with Arafat’s health matters. While they condemned the blackout that surrounded the truth behind Arafat’s condition, Palestinian refugees in Jordan expressed disapproval over the French hospital’s handling of the situation. Salim Saydam said he, as a Palestinian refugee, has the right to know what is wrong with his president.

“If we can’t trust the PNA or the hospital, whom can we trust?” he asked. “The blurred statements and remarks over the situation opened the door for everyone to speculate the worst,” said Saydam, who thinks the news that suggested Arafat was poisoned as “tendentious” but did not reject it. “Within one week we have heard frequent different statements issued by the French hospital and PNA officials, while none of them have been candid on the reason behind Arafat’s infirmity,” said an editorial at the Ad Dustour daily on Tuesday. “This is not joke. We are talking here about a notable, celebrated leader of the Palestinian people… If Arafat has really died, it should have been announced officially,” read the editorial.

“By making Arafat’s illness a slapstick issue, it would only be regarded as deliberate distortion for his legacy and the Palestinian cause in general. The Israelis have disregarded Arafat and besieged him in Ramallah for more than three years with much humiliation and dishonor. We shouldn’t do the same to this man,” it added.

Amman,11 29 2004
Ghassan Joha
The Star
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