Amid fluttering flags and dim light from burning candles, a young kid donning the Palestinian Keffiah held up a placard for the photographers. To the leader of Palestine, it read.
The kid, along with scores of other locals, gathered at the Nativity Square in the West Bank city of Bethlehem to commemorate a man admired as a revolutionary leader, but also hated elsewhere as a hardnosed rebel. Marking his death anniversary on Thursday, the crowd chanted slogans like, 'Free Palestine', a reminder that his legacy remains undetached to the struggle of ordinary Palestinians.
It's been six year since Yasser Arafat, the former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), passed away at a hospital in the suburb of Paris. Known for his impetuosity and passion, Arafat spearheaded the negotiations for the cause of Palestine during his lifetime.
In a 1979 interview to the Time magazine at the headquarters of the PLO in Central Beirut he said, I have very few cards, but I have the strongest cards.
Many of his critics argue that even the 'strong cards' failed to bring peace to the region. His time was marked by utter mistrust, negotiations, agreements which were breached in due course, intransigence of opponents and denunciation of a peace process. But for others his departure meant that the Palestinian side had no cards left to negotiate any further.
The recent US-brokered peace talks between Israel and Palestine witnessed an exchange of high-tone political statements. With both sides now locked in a diplomatic battle over the 'settlement freeze', observes in the region fear that the talks are all set to fail.
The concern to the Western leaders is primarily over the agreements signed earlier by both parties. Analysts predict that failure at talks could result in scrapping all agreements including the Oslo peace accord, which in turn would botch the legacy of Arafat.
The Oslo Accords come with an ambiguity over the end of settlement construction. This has been one of the major flaws of the peace process which started in 1993. But, in what is imperative to the Palestinians is the lack of a face to represent their cause after Arafat. Neither are the cards strong nor are there any good players to use them.
Feuding parties of Fatah and Hamas have failed to unify and there is no power in the region equipped enough to replace them. Constant rivalry between both parties has weakened the resistance movement against the Israelis in recent years.
No progress was made during the second round of dialogue between Islamic Hamas movement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party held in Damascus. The talks which ended on Wednesday ended in a stalemate as both sides could not agree on Palestinian security forces. Reflecting the continuing Palestinian divisions, Hamas reportedly banned public commemoration of the Arafat's death anniversary in the Gaza strip.
Both sides continue to polarize public opinion in territories of West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian leadership, if at all there is any, is categorically running out of options and strategies to contest Israel. Over the past few days, PA's Abbas has been talking of going to the United Nations to put pressure on Israel. But, who will take the issue to the UN remains uncertain. If that's the case, what role could the Hamas play? Who, in fact, will bear the olive branch and the freedom fighter's gun? These questions remain unanswered by the existing factions.
What Palestine has been missing after Arafat is a force that can hold the people together during a state of hardship. The slow pace of reform of the security apparatus and lack of leadership to regain control over the factions have left the cause in jeopardy.