In the weeks leading up to Arafat's death, Israeli and US sources publicly announced the prospects for peace would improve once the Palestinian leader was no longer at the helm.

James Phillips, Middle East specialist at the Heritage Foundation, said the US and Israel did not trust Arafat as a negotiating partner in eventual peace deals.

 

"Hopefully, after he passes from the scene the Palestinians can develop a more constructive approach than Arafat's disastrous strategy," Phillips said in an interview with USA Today.

 

But regional analysts believe Arafat's death will not necessarily improve the chance of a peaceful settlement and that the direction the US administration takes will determine events in the next few years.

 

"Some people think now that Arafat is out, the Americans will be encouraged to continue [pushing for negotiations]. But the Americans are more involved in Iraq first. This is there main issue. Secondly US President George Bush’s policy has been to surrender the issue to Sharon," Walid Kazziha, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, told Aljazeera.net.

 

Pressure on Hamas

 

Kazziha says no one can fill Arafat's shoes and rally the Palestinian people to accept a peace deal the way the charismatic leader, who became a symbol of Palestinian resistance, could. 

Schleifer (R) believes Hamas may 
have to transform after Arafat (L)

 

"I don’t think there is anyone who can fill his space. There will be others filling parts of his space.

 

"If there is no change and the situation continues to be confrontation, Hamas will acquire more and more popular support and will be able to play a major role," he told Aljazeera.net. 

 

But Abd Allah Schleifer, director of the Adham Centre for Television Journalism in Cairo and senior editor of Transnational Broadcasting Studies, believes Hamas may have to transform itself in the years to come.

 

"Sooner or later, Hamas will have to choose between being a spoiler to any serious progress to a peaceful solution or

ultimately come to the same hard realization that Fatah did in the late seventies when it embraced the two state solution," Schleifer told Aljazeera.net.

 

US Mideast role

 

However, both analysts believe that the type of role the US administration plays in the peace process will ultimately determine its success or failure.

The post-Arafat leadership will
have big shoes to fill, say analysts

 

"If the neocon cabal in the Pentagon and in the Vice President's office remain in place then it is difficult to imagine much movement by the US to seriously revive the peace process and the road map and to follow in the footsteps of George Bush Sr and drag the Israeli Right to the negotiating table," Schleifer told Aljazeera.net.

 

What roles neocons like deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Scooter Libby play in the re-elected election may also influence the outcome of the peace process in the Middle East, says Kazziha.