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Arafat died a leader who betrayed his people's trust in the most profound way possible, and he died a humiliating death, lingering in a Paris hospital while his wife and colleagues fought over his financial and political legacy. In the end, however, the manner of his death may have been a partial atonement for the damage he has done to the Palestinian nation. Had he died in an Israeli attack, or had he died suddenly under circumstances where his succession could not be arranged, the region might have gone up in flames. As it is, he died under the eyes of French doctors who could certify that the cause of his death was natural, and his week in limbo provided time for his burial place to be negotiated and an orderly succession arranged. The chances of building something from the ruins are, if not great, at least somewhat better than they would have been had Arafat died at the Muqata.
For better or worse, we now enter the post-Arafat era. Undoing the damage he has done to his country won't be impossible; other nations have recovered from worse. It will, however, be difficult, and the track record of other countries in similar positions isn't encouraging. Often, as in Cote d'Ivoire, the successors of a revolutionary leader seek to retain legitimacy by taking a hard-line nationalist stance. Other times, founding leaders who become corrupt are succeeded by equally corrupt strongmen or committees, resulting in a continuation of the status quo. And needless to say, reform in Palestine is not completely under the Palestinians' control. Many of the questions in the months ahead - whether the Palestinian Authority can conduct orderly elections, whether it can re-establish effective control of its territory, and whether it can restart peace negotiations - will be answered as much by the actions of Israel, Europe, the United States and the Arab world as by the Palestinians themselves. Even the best-intentioned Palestinian leadership will find it difficult to move forward.
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