Groups discuss Arafat’s health

Yasser Arafat's health sparked talks about the future of the Palestinians.

Jerret Raffety

Many student groups are reacting differently to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s poor health.

Arafat is alive and in a coma, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told The Associated Press on Sunday.

For the moment, Arafat remains in a French hospital in Paris. Whether the long-time leader will survive is unknown, but Arafat’s ill health could mark the end of an era in the Palestinian government.

His prolonged or permanent absence could resoundingly affect Middle East relations and the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis.

Whether he’s regarded as a terrorist or peacekeeper, opinions vary widely on Arafat’s mark on the world.

Arab Student Association President Firas Khamis said Arafat is the only leader the Palestinian people have ever known.

“He is not just part of the Palestinian modern history,” he said. “In fact, he is the Palestinian modern history.”

Al-Madinah Cultural Center president Mohammed Iftekhar said Arafat has an influence worldwide.

“(Arafat is) recognized around the world by people and leaders as having given his life to the struggle for freedom and independence of his people,” he said

Others challenge the integrity of Arafat’s work for the Palestinian people.

Arafat fell short in history because he has failed to make peace with Israel, said Amy Olson, executive director of Hillel, The Jewish Student Center.

The Palestinian leader failed as a diplomat, said Joseph Walla, campus political coordinator for the Gophers (American-Israeli) Public Affairs Committee.

“He had two faces and two scripts: one in Arabic that called for the destruction of Israel and another in English that called for peace,” Walla said.

The future

Nobody knows what the future will be between Palestinians and Israelis.

Trish Kanous, a Students for Justice in Palestine member, said she didn’t believe the relationship between Israelis and Palistinians will change if Arafat dies.

“The Israelis might have blamed Arafat for Palestinian resistance, but Palestinians will continue to resist, irrespective of who comes to power,” Kanous said.

Some said they worry Arafat’s absence will destabilize the Palestinian leadership.

“With Arafat out of the picture, Hamas will attempt to take control of Palestinian leadership,” said Dennis Royzenfeld, a member of the Friends of Israel student organization.

“They’ll have difficulty gaining that position because there will be many groups vying for that position,” Royzenfeld said.

Some said they are afraid the entire peace process between the countries depends on the next Palestinian leader.

Mohamed Zaied, a second-year mechanical engineering student and Al-Madinah Cultural Center member, said the peace process will likely fail without an inspirational leader like Arafat.

“Arafat served as an inspiration to the people, like a living legend,” Zaied said.

The new leader could be more progressive or more fanatical, Yasmine Konheim said.

“I’m holding my breath and feel like it’s a wait-and-see situation,” said Konheim, who is a graduate student and Hillel participant.

Kanous said that if Israel is agreeable to the new leadership, the transition process will go smoothly.

Peace might rely on more than the Palestinian and Israeli leadership, some students said.

Iftekhar said that much of the current conflict is because of the Israeli occupation and the one-sided support Israel gets from the United States.

Of the students interviewed, many were optimistic about the region’s future.

Eventually, Kanous said, the two cultures will learn to live together peacefully.

Daniel Levin, the president of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi echoed that viewpoint.

“It is our hope that leaders from both sides of the table, old or new, demonstrate firm and meaningful commitments to peace,” he said.