So far, the media has speculated that the announcement of Arafat's death -- or perhaps, pulling the plug on him -- has been delayed by the need to organize a burial place, sort out the finances, and settle on a new leadership. I'd like to add another reason: I think the men lined up to replace Arafat are probably scared. Not just scared of what the future will bring, but scared of the fact that for the first time in decades, they will be responsible for making decisions about the future of the Palestinian people themselves. As long as the dictator is kept alive, either literally or in the people's minds, they are absolved of this rather awesome responsibility.
Indeed, the ongoing debate over whether Arafat is dead, alive, or somewhere in between, is beginning to resemble not so much a soap opera as the old Soviet Union, in which, for example, the terminal illnesses of both Yuri Andropov and Constantin Chernenko were shrouded in secrecy, and they both died 'of a cold.' Being totalitarian regimes, both societies, of course, have in common a terrible fear of change, and do everything possible to ensure that no opportunity for natural change ever arises. That is why there will be no announcement of Arafat's death until all the details of succession are settled. It would be nice if the media acknowledged that what we are seeing is not (just) a circus, but a totalitarian regime hard at work preserving itself.
My husband, incidentally, suggests that perhaps in the interim the Palestinians can get an actor to play Arafat, a la Richard Dreyfuss in Moon over Parador. But will they be able to find anyone hideous enough????