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Palestinian authorities work towards smooth h -

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Palestinian authorities work towards smooth handover

Reporter: Maxine McKew

MAXINE McKEW: Well, for more on the condition of Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat, we're joined by
correspondent Jane Hutcheon.

Jane, first of all, what explains these different stories, really the confusion about the precise
nature of Arafat's condition.

JANE HUTCHEON: Indeed the confusion continues.

The latest report we have which is a few hours old now is from the representative in Paris, Leila
Shahid, who has confirmed that President Arafat is in a coma, but she says he's in a reversible
coma, somewhere between life and death.

I think what has happened is that reports have leaked out about his condition.

While Palestinian officials have been very quick to scotch those reports because they don't want a
shock to be given to the Palestinian street, they want to make sure this is a smooth handover to
whatever transitional Government there's going to be and so, news of his death is going to be given
very gradually.

MAXINE McKEW: In the meantime, Jane, as you said there in your report, Ahmed Qurie, the current PM,
is in control.

What does that mean for the time being.

JANE HUTCHEON: Well, basically it means that Ahmed Qurie and the former PM, Abu Mazen have
basically got control of the security forces, of the finances, of the economics of the Palestinian
Authority.

But basically Yasser Arafat was a man that transcended all those institutions.

He was above Palestinian law and whether there's going to be a successor in the same kind of vein
as President Arafat is very doubtful.

It's doubtful that anyone can really fill those kind of shoes.

So discussion is continuing as to whether there's a kind of interim president, as to whether a
future president will be the same kind of office holder, or simply a figurehead, so those kind of
discussions are going on at the moment.

MAXINE McKEW: What about on the Israeli side?

Are the Israelis likely to hold firm as they appear to be doing in their determination that, when
in fact, Yasser Arafat is confirmed dead he will not be allowed to be buried in Jerusalem but in
Gaza?

JANE HUTCHEON: Well a very interesting point on that.

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and Israel
certainly doesn't want Yasser Arafat to die on the day that Yitzhak Rabin died, so that's the first
point.

They're hoping that he will at least last another day.

The other point is that they are very adamant that if he does come back into Palestinian
territories it will be Gaza.

The Arafat family has a burial plot in Han Unis in Gaza.

Israel is very adamant he's not going to be buried in Jerusalem, which is what he wants and
unlikely he'll be buried in the West Bank.

So this is a row that is brewing at the moment, of course, the time that Yasser Arafat 's death
will be announced, it's going to be a bigger controversy.

MAXINE McKEW: Could bit a flashpoint for a huge show of force on streets by both sides?

JANE HUTCHEON: It depends how the news is delivered.

It depends how the incident is handled.

Israel has been very careful at the moment to make sure things are very smooth, things are very
cooperative.

It's already let its views be known that he won't be buried in Jerusalem.

There's been very heavy security today, today being Friday of course, Friday prayers and it is city
the holy month of Ramadan.

There was no unrest at the old city where people were going for their prayers and so there's a
hope, there's an expectation that things will remain calm throughout this period.

But of course as we've seen over the past few months, particularly in Gaza, there's already been
infighting between different Palestinian factions, so the possibility, the potential for a flare-up
is still there.

MAXINE McKEW: Is there also infighting on the Israeli side as well within the Israeli Government
about their response and varying responses to Mr Arafat's situation?

JANE HUTCHEON: There are differing opinions.

Obviously, some members of the left wing Labour party, the opposition party, would like things to
be handled differently, but PM Ariel Sharon is absolutely adamant about this one thing, that Yasser
Arafat will not be buried in Jerusalem.

It will not become a future flare-up point for whole Palestinian-Arab question that this leader is
going to be potentially buried in Jerusalem.

It will not happen.

MAXINE McKEW: All right, for that, Jane Hutcheon thank you very much indeed.