For the greater part of the last two years Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat has been confined to his Ramallah headquarters. From within the battered compound Arafat has struggled to retain political control in the face of growing dissension. Today Arafat is confined to a hospital bed in Paris, France. His health has rapidly deteriorated since being transferred there from Ramallah two weeks ago, and there have been numerous conflicting reports concerning his condition. Some believe he may already be dead, but whether or not he is still clinging to life, it seems certain that he will never return to power.
For decades Arafat has lead the people in their struggle for a Palestinian state, but instead of agreeing to a compromise he has lead the Palestinian people into a war they cannot win. He has placed his own ambition above the best interests of the Palestinian people. Arafat and his colleagues, as well as radical Islamic groups like Hamas, have been focused on destroying Israel rather than ending the occupation and obtaining their own state (if they really wanted an independent state they could have had one when the opportunity arose in 1947 and again in 2000). Neither Arafat nor any opposing faction is willing and able to act decisively to end the violence and make peace with Israel.
The Israeli plan to abandon its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has left the Palestinian leadership deadlocked in a massive power struggle, with various groups and factions battling for control. The question also remains as to who will take charge when Arafat is gone. The dying Palestinian leader refused to name a successor. Undoubtedly Arafat regarded any such potential replacement as a threat to his authority. One of the key players fighting to fill the void left by Arafat is the terrorist organization Hamas.
Hamas is responsible for most of the 112 suicide bombings that have killed 465 people and wounded thousands more over the last 3 years. Hamas, which in Arabic means "zeal", is a Muslim fundamentalist movement, which rejects all compromise with Israel and opposes the Palestinian Authority's participation in the peace process. In addition to its militant activities Hamas runs a network of schools, clinics, and mosques which have helped it gain the support of the Palestinian people. Its preliminary goal is to carry out an armed struggle to defeat Israel and establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but its ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel.
The future and leadership of the Palestinian Authority remains uncertain. Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces his own set of challenges. Sharon's controversial decision to dismantle Israeli settlements under the "Road Map" peace plan has drawn widespread criticism. Under pressure from the international community he agreed to the removal all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of the 120 settlements in the West Bank by the end of 2005. Sharon's plan to dismantle the settlements has angered conservatives and there has even been talk of civil war.
For most Westerners it is difficult to understand why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued for so long or why it has resulted in so much violence. The fundamental problem is that Palestinians, lead by Yasser Arafat, have ardently resisted making any concessions toward Israel and have maintained an all-or-nothing approach to peace negotiations. The trouble is that too few Palestinians truly desire peace. Palestinian children are consistently taught in school to hate Israel. Most Arab nations have yet to officially recognize the right of Israel to exist, and many Muslim groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, will not allow peace unless it comes in the form of Israel's destruction.