Arafat’s death may pave way to peace, professor says

A post-Yasser Arafat Palestinian government may bring new hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Florida Atlantic University professor Walid Phares told students in the Marvin Center Thursday night.

Phares, a doctor who has appeared on television as an expert on Middle East conflicts, told his 10-member audience that a new cabinet formed in the wake of Arafat’s death could accept the terms of a 2000 Israeli-Palestinian accord brokered by President Clinton that Arafat rejected. He added that Arafat was a powerful leader of the Palestinians, who must now reorganize in the wake of their standard-bearer’s death.

Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority, died two weeks ago at the age of 75. His death triggered mixed feelings throughout the world, with some mourning his loss and others hoping that his passing would bring new prospects to the peace process in the region.

“Arafat was among those who saw Palestine divided and wanted to correct it,” Phares said.

Phares said a new cabinet will be formed after the Palestinian government chooses a new leader. The Palestinian House of Representatives will assume the power of the presidency until a national election takes place within 60 days of Arafat’s death.

Arafat made the right decision in not choosing a successor, Phares said. “Naming a successor (would have been) engaging in a war with the potential successors,” he said.

Phares said Palestine just wants peace and the new government will reflect that wish.

“The cabinet wants a state where they can get the government started,” he said. “The Palestinian government just wants to govern.”

Students interested in foreign affairs should keep a close eye on the future for Israeli-Palestinian policy, Phares said.

“You live here. D.C. is a decision-maker system for foreign policy. GW is known for its policy interest,” he said. “You students are the new generation of architects of future policies.”

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies sponsored Phares’ speech, the latest in a series of lectures on terrorism and democracy. Two students are fellows for the foundations.

Some students said they went to Thursday’s event because of their interest in the future of the peace process.

“Now that (Arafat) is dead Palestine has a new hope for peace,” sophomore Ariel Frank said. “I came tonight because it’s been a big subject in the news and it’s important to get scholarly knowledge on what kind of person Arafat was.”

Junior Lauren O’Leary said she was skeptical about the prospects for stability in Israel.

“I don’t know if Arafat’s death is going to have much effect on the government,” she said. “Much of the leadership underneath him feels the same way Arafat did.”

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