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Palestinians remember Yasser Arafat

Amid brewing political crisis:

WEST BANK: Palestinians gathered Wednesday to mark five years since the death of their iconic leader Yasser Arafat, with president Mahmud Abbas due to address the West Bank rally.

The anniversary of Arafat’s death finds Palestinians more divided than ever and his successor Abbas pondering resignation because of stalled US-led peace efforts that have failed to bring about an independent Palestinian state.

Crowds began gathering in the West Bank’s political capital of Ramallah, with thousands expected to attend the rally to honour the man who catapulted the Palestinians’ struggle onto the world stage and led them through nearly four decades of armed struggle and sputtering peace negotiations.

Abbas was to address the crowd amid grim predictions by his aides that he may resign as president, perhaps leading to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority established by Arafat during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s.

“The moment of truth has come and we have to be frank with the Palestinian people that we have not been able to reach a two-state solution through 18 years of negotiation,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

“We have become convinced that Israel does not want a Palestinian state on lands it occupied in 1967,” he said, referring to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the Six Day War. Abbas resigning would throw the divided Palestinians into new legal and political limbo.

According to Palestinian Basic Law, to become effective Abbas’s resignation has to be approved by two thirds of the Palestinian parliament. But the chamber has not convened since 2006 and it is unclear whether it would do so if he quits.

If the resignation is approved, the speaker of parliament, Aziz Dweik of the rival Islamist Hamas movement, would assume the presidency until new elections are held within 60 days. But aides have indicated in recent days that if Abbas steps down the entire Palestinian Authority could collapse, which would spell the end of the already defunct Oslo process and leave nearly four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank once again dependent on Israel for basic services.RAMALLAH, Wednesday, AFP

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