Middle East Expert on Arafat's Life and Death - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports


Middle East Expert on Arafat's Life and Death

Palestinian leaders are moving quickly to fill the gap from Yasser Arafat's death. Arafat died last night at the age of 75. There will be a funeral for him tomorrow in Egypt. There's a lot of uncertainty in the Middle East, and even more with Arafat gone.

While Palestinians mourn, the rest of the world looks to the future. WTOC met with our area's foremost Middle East expert, Dr. Jack Shaheen, today. He says history will have an interesting take on Arafat.

Certainly, he was a strong leader who had the undying support of his people, but he was also a leader who was never able to accomplish his goals, and missed opportunities to do so.

Prior to his death yesterday in Paris, Yassir Arafat had spent generations going back and forth with Israel in a bitter and violent tug of war over the West Bank. Several times, he almost accomplished his objective of getting back at least some of that land.
"They had agreed, Barak and Arafat, that 95 percent was a done deal, but Barak was defeated, Sharon took over, the deal was cancelled, we're back to square one," explained Dr. Shaheen.

Now though, with new leadership set to take over, Dr. Shaheen says there's an opportunity to finally see peace. But by no means will it be easy, and a lot of it depends on outside influences. "Are the Israelis going to continue to build settlements? If so, the future leadership won't succeed even if they want to. Are we going to be impartial, or are we going to continue our pro-Israeli position? These are hard questions. These are questions no one's asking on CNN or Fox. Everyone basically is singing the same tune."

Shaheen maintains the US and other world leaders need to step back and let the Palestinians decide who they want as a leader. Only then should they sit down with whoever that is and work together toward peace. "This is not a solo effort. This is not a 'You're with us or against us' situation. This requires the expertise of Tony Blaire and other world leaders. Blaire is meeting with Bush tomorrow. We need to listen to our European allies."

Arafat's funeral will be in Egypt, and then he will be buried at his compound in Ramallah, the land where he fought to create a state.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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