Background: Arafat's legacy lives on 10 years after his death

This year’s anniversary comes amid increased tensions between Israel and Hamas, along with Palestinian infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (photo credit: REUTERS)
Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Fatah loyalists will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat on Tuesday amid growing tensions with Israel and Hamas.
Meanwhile, many Palestinians are convinced that he did not die of natural causes.
“The circumstances surrounding Arafat’s death are still mysterious,” the PLO’s official news agency, Wafa, remarked on Monday.
“The investigation launched by the national commission of inquiry into this case is continuing its work, although it has been announced on more than one occasion that president Yasser Arafat’s death was not natural, but the result of poisoning.”
On the occasion of the anniversary, Arafat’s Fatah faction vowed to continue in his path and abide by the Palestinians’ national goals and aspirations.
Noting that Arafat was a “symbol of national liberation and struggle,” Fatah praised his “patience, steadfastness, wisdom, courage and political realism.”
Fatah hailed him for remaining steadfast in the face of “conspiracies to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
Arafat’s successor as chairman of Fatah and of the PLO, and as president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said in a speech in Ramallah on Sunday that the late Palestinian leader’s tomb in the city would soon be moved to Jerusalem.
Abbas was speaking during a ceremony to inaugurate a museum named after Arafat.
Abbas and Arafat were not on good terms in the last few years before the latter’s death.
In fact, Arafat – according to Palestinian sources – despised Abbas and made his utmost to keep him away from power.
Under pressure from the US and EU, Arafat reluctantly appointed Abbas as prime minister of the PA in 2003. However, Abbas resigned after a few months after accusing Arafat of undermining him and inciting Palestinians against him.
But the rivalry between the two men did not stop Abbas from heaping praise on Arafat in a series of events in Ramallah marking the anniversary.
In an interview with Palestine TV, Abbas described Arafat as an “address of optimism, a pragmatist and a real man of peace.”
Abbas’s rivals in Fatah reacted with sarcasm to his comments.
“President Abbas has failed to honor Yasser Arafat’s legacy,” a disgruntled Fatah operative in Ramallah said. “Under Abbas, the Palestinians are more divided than ever and, for the first time in many years, Fatah is facing serious divisions and differences.”
The Fatah operative and many of his colleagues still hold Abbas responsible for the faction’s defeat to Hamas in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election. Some also hold him responsible for the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, claiming that he did almost nothing to prevent the Gaza Strip from falling into the hands of the Islamist movement.
The Fatah representatives pointed out that Arafat’s departure from the scene paved the way for Abbas to settle scores with many of his rivals in the faction, first and foremost Muhammad Dahlan, the former security commander in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas’s dispute with Dahlan has intensified tensions in Fatah. These tensions reached their peak in recent years with the unprecedented expulsion of several top Fatah officials from the faction at the request of Abbas.
Today, many Fatah leaders do not hesitate to criticize Abbas in public – something that would have been unthinkable during the Arafat era.
The most common charge against Abbas is that he has “hijacked Fatah” and turned it into his and his sons’ private fiefdom. Dahlan and other former Arafat advisers and aides have even launched their own websites to level such charges against Abbas.
This year’s anniversary coincides with increased tensions between Fatah and Hamas despite the recurring talk about reconciliation and unity.
Earlier this week, Fatah was forced to cancel a major rally in Gaza City to mark the anniversary of Arafat’s death following a series of explosions that targeted the homes and vehicles of 15 of the movement’s leaders.
Fatah has blamed Hamas for the attacks. Hamas has denied the allegation, claiming that the bombings were the result of internal disputes in Fatah.
Some Hamas leaders and spokesmen argue that their real dispute is not with Fatah, but with Abbas personally. Many of them continue to refer to Abbas as the “Palestinian Hamid Karzai” – a reference to the former Afghanistan president who was accused of being a puppet of the US.
Hamas leaders claim that it was Arafat who first denounced Abbas as the “Palestinian Hamid Karzai.”
Yet Arafat’s departure from the scene has seen an improvement in relations between Abbas’s regime and Israel.
Unlike Arafat, Abbas says he is strongly opposed to terrorism and violence, although he sometimes employs the same fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric as his predecessor. Under Abbas, the PA security forces continue to maintain a high level of security coordination with Israel.
But it is this close coordination with Israel that has made Abbas less popular among his constituents. Many Palestinians find it hard to forgive Abbas for his recent statement that security coordination with Israel is “sacred.”
They see this coordination as a form of collaboration with their enemy.