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What next for the Middle East?

The death of Yasser Arafat may mean the suspension of business as usual in the Middle East for the next few weeks � but by golly, if ever there was an opportunity to catch this tiger by the tail, it�s now.

Arafat was not just a leader, but a figurehead and while his recenly-announced successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is respected internationally, does he have the domestic clout to unite the factions within the PLO?

Considered a moderate liberal, as well as a critic of the most recent Palestinian uprising on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he left his post as secretary�general of the PLO after a fight with Arafat.

After inaugurating the �road map� peace plan with Junior and Ariel Sharon and working to secure a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian militant groups, he grew frustrated by the Israeli prime minister�s refusal to help build support for Palestinian prisoners.

Arafat, jealously guarding his power, repeatedly undermined his prime minister and in September 2003, Abbas resigned in frustration, so angry with Arafat that he refused to speak to his old boss for more than a year.

It was a move which could still have repurcussions among those with long memories � many militant Palestinians have more time for the reactionary �party line� of current prime minister Ahmed Qurei than Abbas� more progressive stance.

Israel, the UK and America have predictably suggested that Arafat�s passing could be a turning point � and you can bet that the powerful pro-divisionist American interests are already considering their options in the race for dominance in the Middle East.

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