Jamil Hamad: Faisal Husseini was a symbol of the Palestinian national movement's determination to keep Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. He represented a tradition and a history of Palestinian pride and struggle. His father was killed in a battle between Israelis and Palestinians in 1948, west of Jerusalem, and had always been hailed as a national hero. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is also his cousin.
Husseini's political credentials weren't based only on his family background. He was jailed by the Israelis several times, and that earned him tremendous respect among Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank. He was not a leader who fought the battle from Tunis (headquarters of Yasser Arafat and the PLO until the Oslo Accord allowed them to return to Ramallah and Gaza). He remained behind and expressed his national feeling on the ground, and went to jail for it. And one of the more important things about his legacy, also, was that his name was never mentioned in connection with the corruption that has been so widespread in the Palestinian Authority. He will be remembered for his dedication, honesty and the fact that he was clean of corruption. And there's a fear now that he will be replaced by a corrupted person.
His death has also caused some speculation over the succession of Yasser Arafat, who after all is more than ten years older than Husseini was and not always in the best of health…
Faisal Husseini's name had been mentioned more than once as a possible successor to Arafat. As a Jerusalemite, a product of a family with a history of struggle, and as a clean person. He had also been a bridge between Palestinians on the West Bank and the exiled PLO in Tunis, because he served for a long time on the central committee of Fatah and regularly traveled to Tunis to consult with the leadership there. At the same time, in the eyes of those on the West Bank, he was not an outsider; he knew what he was talking about. Add to that the fact that he learned Hebrew, so that he could engage with the Israelis in their own language, and played a leading role in opening up dialogue with the Israelis. That also made him a "kosher" Palestinian.
But it must be remembered that recently, Arafat had made every effort to curb Husseini's influence. He was kept out of the last two years of negotiations. And it's easy to see why he might have caused unease among some potential rivals. He was highly respected by the international community as a man of ideas, a moderate, but also a nationalist. He had succeeded in establishing Orient House as a Palestinian address in Jerusalem, and that gave him a great deal of political influence. Besides meeting Arafat in Ramallah or Gaza, foreign envoys and diplomats used to come to Orient House and meet Faisal Husseini. And there was a great deal of political significance in that. The Israelis many times expressed their dissatisfaction over the functioning of Orient House Netanyahu even tried to close it down.
But lately, Husseini had become more isolated. He was not on Arafat's negotiating teams. His primary concern had been mobilizing world opinion and Arab opinion against Jewish expansion in Jerusalem.
So where does his death leave the question of Arafat's succession?
The issue is not being directly raised right now, and the successor issue is always linked with the state of the Palestinian relationship with Israel whether the emphasis is on negotiations or confrontation. So Israel is a factor in deciding who is going to replace Arafat.
According the Palestinian Authority's constitution, when Arafat dies the head of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmed Qurei, becomes chairman of the Authority. But an election must be held in two months, in which anyone can conceivably be a candidate. But Fatah (the largest component part of the PLO) would have to pick a candidate for both the chairmanship of the PA and the PLO. (Arafat currently holds both positions.)
And I think the first thing to realize is that after Arafat, it's very unlikely that there will be another Arafat. It's more likely that the PA will be chaired by someone from the PA, and a different person will be the chairman of the PLO. Because they have to keep the relationship with the Palestinians outside of the West Bank and Gaza the PA doesn't represent all Palestinians.
Much depends on the state of relations with Israeli when the succession takes place. If the situation is calm and settled by the time Arafat dies, Palestinian national institutions will continue to function. But if it had to happen in the current situation of tension and military confrontation, there would be the potential for a breakup of Palestinian national institutions and a very unpredictable situation.