My last letter ended with the comment that there are so many scenarios (beginning with the Knesset vote in favor of removing Jewish settlements from Gaza) that they make it foolish to try a detailed prediction. Twelve hours later I heard for the first time news of Arafat's deteriorating physical condition. Now he has left Palestine on his way to Paris.
I had not thought about that, but it raises numerous possibilities:
Changes in the Palestinian leadership seem likely. Even if Arafat lives, he may never return, or he may not be in a condition to lead.
There may be a period of greater chaos than presently in the Palestinian Authority. The outcome of political or violent struggle for control may be the victory of the old guard (ie individuals who came with Arafat from overseas in 1993); a new leadership anxious to reach an accord with Israel; a leadership that adheres to violence as the only option against Israel; or a continuation of corruption at the summit, a number of gangs who compete for control over cities and neighborhoods, and a religious fanaticism that justifies maximum possible violence against Israelis, Jews, Americans etc.
For Israelis, this may put the whole issue of disengagement on hold, against the chance that a Palestinian leadership will emerge with whom Israel can arrange a smooth turnover of areas in Gaza, as part of larger accommodations. This can neutralize the demands for a referendum within Israel, keep the National Religious Party and all of Likud within Sharon's government. If there is a chance for some kind of accommodation with Palestinians, it will also provide an opportunity for the Israeli Labor Party to put its house in order and seek to become an attractive political alternative. Currently Labor suffers from the dominance of intifada on the agenda, and its lack of an attractive alternative to Sharon's for dealing with it.
Also for Israelis, Arafat's departure reduces the importance of the American election. If all may be a new game in this part of the Middle East, it is impossible to predict either Kerry's or Bush's responses. Hopefully, any American administration will pause to learn before acting. Since it is impossible to predict what will happen in Palestinem it is impossible to predict how one American administration or another would act, so Israelis' preference for one candidate or another may become less clear than recent surveys have indicated.
It is still not a time for predictions. Who knows what will happen in the next 12 hours?