AFTER ARAFAT.

 
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In the second of a two-part series on Yasser Arafat, Al Venter looks at possible contenders to succeed him as PA Chairman.

The first name mentioned recently when the subject of a possible successor to Chairman Arafat is discussed is usually that of Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei). He is regarded by many as the "Technocrat Choice" and would seem the likeliest immediate option were Arafat to die tomorrow.

There are some contentious issues which might be countered by his present role as Speaker of the PA. The first involves questions about `clean hands'. This refers to a variety of deals and post-Oslo commercial transactions about which there have been whispers, especially by his critics. No one is certain in which direction he is likely to lead his people. Nor is anyone prepared to draw him on such a sensitive subject while Arafat remains in power.

The Israelis, though not entirely comfortable with Abu Ala, regard him as "the devil we know". For a long time, according to Uri Savir, his opposite number at Oslo, "he seemed torn between two unshakeable convictions: his certainty of Israel's abiding arrogance and his faith in the possibility of achieving peace."

Clearly he distinguished himself in the Norwegian capital where he often prefaced his remarks by comparing the situation to the clash between David and Goliath.

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazin) is considered by some observers to be the likeliest Fatah candidate.

Born in what is today the Israeli part of the country, he was at Arafat's side in Tunis while the Oslo talks were going on. For years he was regarded as one of the PLO leader's closest associates. Much of what Abu Ala put on the table during the negotiations either went first to Mazin, before being finally submitted to Arafat for approval, or came from him. He was the intermediary and, to those who understand PLO dynamics, he obviously shared his boss's confidences.

Mahmoud Abbas's problem, basically, is that he has no real or popular standing within the Palestinian community, even though he returned home to become the principle Palestinian negotiator. He remains something of an outsider, mostly preferring the company of those in the command structure to moving about among the masses.

He lacks charisma, it has been suggested. During the period of the offensive, though, he often proved himself to be as ruthless as any of his contemporaries.

The Israelis are wary of the man. "Abu Mazin survived the past and could be regarded as the dark horse of the...

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