Israel and the United States considered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat an obstacle to peace in the Middle East, but his death only complicates the outlook. The large shadow Arafat cast across Palestinian society and his lack of desire to groom a successor will make the outcome of presidential elections due in 60 days inconclusive. Factionalism and anticipated power struggles within Palestinian organisations may mean many months pass before the peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis resume. Analysts were divided last night on whether a Palestinian power-play should be allowed to resolve itself, or whether the US and Israel should step in. All agreed confusion would reign before a path of certainty emerged. Palestinian professor Ali Jirbawi summed up the mood from his office at Birzeit University in the West Bank. 'It's premature to make any predictions,' he said. 'Arafat is not buried yet. Everybody is expecting things to happen, but it's very early to talk about any kind of change.' Dr Jirbawi was certain, though, that Arafat's position towards Israel would remain, no matter who took over from him. This was despite the men holding transitional power - the late leader's deputy in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mahmoud Abbas, and Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei - being considered moderates. 'If the Israelis and Americans think that the new Palestinian leadership is capable of changing course, they are mistaken,' he said. The director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, Khalil Shikaki, agreed, concluding that Arafat's successors would be committed to his legacy of a separate state of Palestine living in peace next to Israel. In the short term, though, new leaders had to be democratically chosen, old and young Palestinian leaders had to forge an alliance and Israel must cease provocative actions or violence would erupt in the occupied territories. 'Without such steps, the transition phase after Arafat could turn violent, leading to a bloody internal power struggle and a dramatic increase in Palestinian-Israeli violence,' Dr Shikaki warned from Nablus. 'In this case, the peace process could suffer further deterioration leading to much deeper political stagnation.' President George W. Bush said last night a new Palestinian leader would create an opening for peace with Israel. The so-called road map to peace in the Middle East, launched in 2002, had made little progress because of American and Israeli refusal to deal with Arafat. Israeli expert Gerald Steinberg backed that assessment yesterday, determining that Arafat was 'clearly the primary obstacle to peace'. 'Arafat's goal was not two states living side by side, but the destruction of Israel,' he said. Dr Steinberg said Palestinians had to resolve their own problems before peace talks could resume. Israel and its ally, the US, were outsiders until then. But George Joffe, a British analyst of Middle East affairs, contended peace in the region was a three-way matter - although extremely uncertain for now. 'The process post-Arafat depends on what the Americans and Israelis want to do and we don't know what either want,' Dr Joffe, of the Centre for International Studies at Cambridge University, said. 'It depends on what the Palestinians want to achieve and we can't know until after the presidential election. That's the key - it depends who stands and who wins.'