LEWISTON – He was born in Palestine, half Kurdish, half Yemeni, all Jewish.

Now, living in America, Dr. Mishael Caspi is hoping for the best, yet fearing he will instead see the worst.

Caspi, a lecturer in religion at Bates College, says that when Yasser Arafat dies, the Palestinian Authority will likely erupt into factional fighting.

Arafat, 75, is said to be at death’s door at a hospital in France. Doctors there said he’s comatose. They scuttled a rumor that spread at noon Thursday that Arafat, who has led Palestinians since 1969, had already died.

“There are two possibilities,” that will follow the chairman’s death, said Caspi. “One is that the moderates in the Palestinian Authority will take over.”

That’s the best hope for the long-suffering people in the West Bank, Gaza strip and elsewhere in the Middle East, he suggested.

“But I am afraid they won’t be able to do that,” Caspi said.

Caspi said the Palestinian Authority has people in its leadership who could take charge in a post-Arafat Palestine, but he believes a power struggle will likely prevent moderates from gaining the control needed to neutralize militants.

“There are too many factions” in the authority, he said. “Violent activities will be started, especially in Gaza,” Caspi predicted, “and probably spread into the northern West Bank.”

The discontent of those in the more radical factions – particularly the militant Hamas, he said – will likely result in infighting that could verge on civil war.

“They will bring violence to the people,” Caspi said before adding, “I really hope that I’m wrong.”

As that violence spreads, Caspi said, “Israel must move into military action, especially in Gaza” to quell the fighting. That in turn could further inflame the situation.

Then, said Caspi, “the Palestinian factions will be waging a struggle for power and a struggle against Israel. If that is the case it will be a torch in the area.”

Rather than taking up arms, Caspi said the Palestinians need to learn to talk, to communicate with each other as well as with Israelis in order to find peace.

“Arafat has been the problem” in that sense, he said. “With the death of Arafat,” he added, the Palestinian people would have an opportunity to communicate, to come to their senses.

Caspi said the United States, because of its foreign policy in the Middle East, has rendered itself unable to mediate peace post-Arafat.

“I don’t really think the U.S. is capable to take part in the struggle in the Middle East in that area, because of Iraq,” Caspi said.

Diplomatic efforts won’t help either, he said.

“People have to be the diplomats,” he said. “People have to be able to talk to each other.”

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