Yasser Arafat (born 1929) was elected chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1969. Though originally an advocate of all-out guerrilla war, from 1974 on he and the PLO sometimes seemed to be seeking a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian problem. He was awarded the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal by the World Peace Council in 1975.
Yasser Arafat was born Abdel-Rahman Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini on October 24, 1929 to a Palestinian family living in Cairo, Egypt. He was related, through his mother, to the Husseini family, who were prominent members of the Sunni Muslim community in Jerusalem. His youth was spent in Cairo and Jerusalem. At that time, the area of historic Palestine was ruled by the British, under a mandate (license) from the League of Nations. Palestine was also a magnet for Jewish immigrants from Europe, who sought to build a Jewish homeland there. Jewish immigration was opposed by most of the country's existing population, who for the most part were ethnic Arabs of both the Muslim and Christian faiths.
While still in his teens Arafat became involved with a Palestinian Arab nationalist group led by cousins from the Husseini family. When the British moved out of Palestine in 1948, fierce fighting broke out between the Jewish and Arab communities. The Jews were easily able to beat the Palestinians. As a result, around a million Palestinians were forced to flee their ancestral homeland and sought refuge in neighboring Arab nations. Two-thirds of prewar Palestine then became the Jewish state of Israel. The rest came under the control of two Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.
After the Palestinians' 1948 defeat, Arafat went to Cairo, where he studied engineering. He founded a Palestinian student union, which expanded rapidly over the following years. At the end of the 1950s it was one of the main constituent groups in the new Palestinian nationalist movement "Fateh". (The name is a reverse acronym for Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filastinivva—the Palestinian Liberation Movement.)
Arafat was one of Fateh's most prominent founders and sat on the movement's central committee. Fateh rejected the many complex ideologies which were fought over in the Arab world in the late 1950s and rejected reliance on any of the existing Arab regimes. Its members argued that Palestinians should seek to regain their own country by their own efforts, which should include guerrilla warfare against Israel. This armed struggle was launched in 1965. The attacks did not seriously scar the Jewish military, but did increase Palestinian morale and Arafat's credibility.
Birth of the PLO
Meanwhile, in 1964, the Arab countries had created their own Palestinian confederation, which they called the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). At that stage the PLO did not take on the Israelis directly.
In 1967, the Israelis defeated the Arabs in the full scale Six-Day War. Israel managed to occupy the rest of historic Palestine, along with chunks of Egyptian and Syrian territory. The Arab states were discredited by their defeat in the Six-Day War and the Fateh guerrillas who had long criticized them seemed vindicated. In 1969, Fateh and its allies were able to take over the PLO apparatus, and Arafat was elected chairman of the executive committee.
Many guerrilla camps were set up in Jordan along the border with Israel. In September 1970 Jordan's King Hussein sent his army against these growing camps, killing many Palestinians in what was known as Black September. Lebanon then became the guerrillas' main base of military operations. After this, the PLO engaged in terrorist acts, including the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
The Peace Process
In October 1973 Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War, trying to regain the lands Israel had occupied six years earlier. They did not succeed in regaining the lands by force, but their action stimulated American efforts to seek a negotiated settlement in the region. In 1974 the PLO's ruling body, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), voted to seek inclusion in such a settlement, calling for the creation of a Palestinian national authority in those two areas of historic Palestine which the Israelis had occupied in 1967. (These were the West Bank—known by the Israelis as Judea and Samaria—and the Gaza Strip.)
In November 1974 the support of the Arab states enabled Arafat to participate in a debate on the Middle East at the United Nations General Assembly. His famous words there were: "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." But he failed to use his appearance to spell out the PLO's call for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, so the Israelis still refused to have any dealings with the PLO. In 1975, the United States government vowed to do likewise, at least until the PLO should openly recognize U.N. Security Council resolution 242 of 1967 and Israel's right to exist. Under pressure from Palestinian hardliners, Arafat and the PLO refused to satisfy this condition.
When Egypt's President Anwar Sadat launched his peace process with Israel in 1977-1979, the PLO opposed it. The Camp David accords signed by Egypt, Israel, and the United States in 1978 called for the institution of a Palestinian autonomy plan in the West Bank and Gaza, but this plan never went into effect. Most Palestinian residents of these occupied areas feared that 'autonomy' meant the continuation of Israeli rule, and they supported the PLO's call for an independent Palestinian state there.
In 1982 the Israeli government decided to try to smash the PLO's military capability in Lebanon. The Israeli army knocked out PLO positions in south Lebanon and encircled Arafat and his remaining forces in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. American diplomacy finally resulted in the evacuation of the PLO from Beirut.
In February 1983 the PNC voted to pursue a reconciliation with Jordan and Egypt, with a view to suing for peace with Israel. This angered the Syrians, who set about forming an internal PLO rebellion against Arafat's leadership. Then, in November 1984, Arafat convened a meeting of the PNC in the Jordanian capital. This provoked a final break with his pro-Syrian critics, and afterwards he felt freer to pursue his moves toward the Jordanians.
In February 1985, Arafat and King Hussein healed the rift which had divided them since 1970 and agreed on a joint strategy toward Israel. Their announced aim was the creation of a confederation between Jordan and a Palestinian entity which would be established in the West Bank and Gaza. They sought the help of the United States in pressing the Israelis to agree to this. One obstacle to be overcome was the Americans' ten-year-old ban on talking to the PLO. In midsummer 1985, plans were made for a series of diplomatic moves which would include Arafat's open acceptance of resolution 242. But by early 1986 King Hussein broke off negotiations with Arafat, citing PLO refusal to compromise.
The Oslo Accord was signed by Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the fall of 1993. The accord placed the city of Jericho, the Israeli occupied Gaza Strip, and eventually the remainder of the West Bank under Palestinian self-rule. Arafat was elected president in January 1996.
Late in 1996, Rabin's successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, signed the Hebron agreement with Arafat which removed Israeli occupiers from the last occupied city in the West Bank. In return, Arafat promised to amend the portion of the Palestinian National Charter which calls for the destruction of Israel.
Return to the Status Quo
The decision by Israel to build homes in Jerusalem started up the terrorism campaign in the Middle East. The resulting hostility between the Israelis and the Palestinians placed the peace process on very shaky ground. Jewish settlement in Jerusalem remains a controversial issue.
The major biography of Arafat is Alan Hart, Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker (1984). An earlier and more critical biography, which contains many errors, is Thomas Kiernan, Arafat: The Man and the Myth (1976). The politics of the PLO are detailed in Quandt, Jabber, and Lesch, The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism (1973), and Helena Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics (1984). One interesting biographical account by a close Arafat colleague is Abu Iyad with Eric Rouleau, My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle (1981). Additional Arafat articles include "Don't Insult Me With an Offer Like That," Time (June 23, 1997), and "Hope and Fear," Scholastic Update (September 20, 1996). □
"Yasser Arafat." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/yasser-arafat
"Yasser Arafat." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved March 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/yasser-arafat
Yasir Arafat was elected chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1969. Though originally in favor of an all-out war to end Israel's occupation of Arab lands in the Middle East, from 1974 on he and the PLO claimed to be interested in a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian problem.
Yasir Arafat was born Abdel-Rahman Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini on October 24, 1929, to a Palestinian family living in Cairo, Egypt. His father was a merchant. Arafat's youth was spent in Cairo and Jerusalem. At that time, in the decades following World War I (1914–18), the British ruled Palestine. Many Jewish people from Europe sought to build a Jewish homeland there, but many Muslim and Christian Arabs who lived in Palestine opposed Jewish immigration because they were afraid it would upset the cultural balance there.
While still in his teens Arafat became involved with a group seeking independence for Palestinian Arabs. When the British moved out of Palestine in 1948 and the Jewish state of Israel was created on a piece of Palestinian land, fighting broke out between the Jewish and Arab communities. The Jews were easily able to beat the Palestinians. As a result approximately one million Palestinians were forced to flee their homeland and seek refuge in neighboring Arab nations. Thus two-thirds of pre-war Palestine then became Israel. The rest came under the control of two Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.
Fatah and the PLO
After the Palestinians' 1948 defeat, Arafat went to Cairo, where he studied engineering and founded a student union. By the end of the 1950s, he helped to found al-Fatah which became one of the main groups in the new Palestinian independence movement. Arafat was one of Fatah's most important founders and sat on the group's central committee. Fatah members argued that Palestinians should seek to regain their country by their own efforts, including guerrilla warfare (independent acts of war and terrorism) against Israel. This armed struggle was launched in 1965. The attacks did not damage the Jewish military, but they did increase Arafat's popularity. Meanwhile, in 1964, Palestinian freedom fighters in Arab countries had created their own confederation, which they called the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In 1967 the Israelis defeated the Arabs in the Six-Day War. Israel took over the rest of Palestine, along with sections of Egypt and Syria. The Arab states were embarrassed by this defeat. Fatah members were able to assume control of the PLO, with Arafat elected chairman of the executive committee. Guerrilla camps were set up in Jordan along the border with Israel. In September 1970 Jordan's King Hussein (1935–1999) sent his army into the camps, killing many Palestinians in what became known as Black September. The PLO began to engage in terrorist acts, including the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, in 1972.
Endless peace talks
In 1973 Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War, an attempt to regain lands Israel occupied six years earlier. This led to efforts by the United States to seek peace in the region. In 1974 the PLO voted to be included in any settlement. It also called for the creation of a Palestinian national authority in two areas the Israelis occupied in 1967, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Participating in a debate on the Middle East at the United Nations General Assembly, Arafat said, "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." The Israelis and the Americans refused to have any dealings with the PLO until it recognized a United Nations resolution regarding Israel's right to exist. Arafat and the PLO would not satisfy this condition.
Arafat and the PLO also opposed peace agreements proposed by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (1918–1981) in 1977–79. These agreements were known as the Camp David Accords, because they had been drawn up in Maryland at the U.S. presidential retreat of that name. Egypt, Israel, and the United States signed them in 1978. They called for the establishment of Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza, but the plan never went into effect. The PLO continued its demand for an independent Palestinian state in the area. Arafat worked to make peace with Jordan and Egypt throughout the 1980s, and sought help from the United States in setting up a confederation between Jordan and a Palestinian entity that would be established in the West Bank and Gaza. King Hussein broke off talks with Arafat, however, saying that the PLO refused to compromise.
In 1993 Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995) signed the Oslo Accords. The following year the two men and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. The Oslo Accords placed the city of Jericho, the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, and eventually the remainder of the West Bank under Palestinian self-rule. In January 1996 Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), the area's new governing body. Later that same year an agreement was reached to remove Israelis from the last occupied city in the West Bank. In return Arafat promised to amend the portion of the Palestinian National Charter calling for the destruction of Israel.
Same old situation
Israel's decision to build homes in Jerusalem started up the terrorism campaign once again in the Middle East, placing peace efforts on very shaky ground. In July 2000 peace talks between Arafat, U.S. president Bill Clinton (1946–), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1942–) at Camp David did not lead to any agreement. Arafat had said that he would declare a Palestinian state on September 13, 2000, with or without an agreement with Israel. He finally agreed to wait in the hopes that more talks might lead to a settlement.
Unfortunately, outbreaks of violence began between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. In October 2000 Arafat, Barak, and Clinton met and came up with a "statement of intent" to end the violence, but neither side was completely satisfied. Nearly one hundred people, almost all of them Palestinians, had been killed in the clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians. In November 2000 Arafat told Fatah activists to cease firing on Israelis. Steady gunfire followed news of Arafat's announcement, however, with Palestinians shooting at Israeli positions from an apartment building. Israeli forces returned fire with machine guns.
Though Arafat was offered a peace proposal designed by Clinton and approved by Barak in January 2001, the leader found it unsatisfactory (it did not allow displaced Palestinians the right to return to their home-land), and the Arab-Israeli violence in the Middle East continued. After the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government increased the pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a settlement. The United States hoped to involve Arab nations in the fight against terrorism. Despite Arafat's demands for it to stop, there seemed to be no end to the violence, however. In December 2001 the Israeli government severed all ties to the PNA, leaving little hope of a resolution anytime soon. And on two occasions in 2002, the Israeli army took over the majority of Arafat's compound, essentially making him a prisoner in his own home.
For More Information
Aburish, Saïd K. Arafat: From Defender to Dictator. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
Wallach, Janet, and John Wallach. Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder. Rev. and updated ed. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub., 1997.
"Arafat, Yasir." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arafat-yasir
"Arafat, Yasir." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved March 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arafat-yasir
Arafat, Yasir 1929-2004
Yasir Arafat is best known as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and first president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). He was also one of the founding members of Fateh (1959), which would later become the most powerful group within the PLO. More than anything else, Arafat is viewed as one of the patriarchs of the Palestinian national movement. In the 1970s, Arafat also attained the standing of a head of state within the Arab world as a result of two events: First, in 1974, the PLO was recognized as the “official” representative of the Palestinian people by the Arab Summit Conference. Second, in 1976 Palestine was granted full membership into the League of Arab States. In 1994 Arafat was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Israelis Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in recognition of the successful completion of peace negotiations and the 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accords) between Israel and the PLO.
Arafat was trained as an engineer in Egypt and graduated from Cairo University. He then moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a civil engineer. It was in Kuwait that Fateh was founded. For the next forty years, Arafat moved around the region, from Kuwait to Syria to Jordan to Lebanon to Tunisia to Gaza and the West Bank, all in pursuit of his ultimate goal: the formation of a sovereign national homeland for the Palestinian people. Arafat’s complete dedication to the “Palestinian cause,” and the tactics used to further it, often led to tense relations not only with Israeli leaders, but also with his fellow Arab leaders. In fact, it was as a result of some of these tactics that Arafat and his operatives were either jailed (i.e., in Syria) or expelled.
Historians and political commentators have described the tactics used by Arafat and his supporters (either under the banner of Fateh, the PLO, or other organizational names such as Black September) as both guerrilla warfare and terrorism. Actions such as sabotage, infiltration into Israel, and airline hijackings were among the measures used by Arafat and these groups. While Israel was the primary target of these attacks, other Western states and assets were also targeted on occasion, particularly with respect to airline hijackings. At the same time, Jordan was also a target of some of these actions as well.
Tensions between Arafat and the leaders of the various Arab states arose from a number of factors, including destabilizing consequences of having the PLO based in one’s territory—a factor that led to Arafat and the PLO being expelled from two different states (Jordan and Lebanon), and differing of opinions about how the “struggle” should be run, from where it should be directed, or if a change in strategy (i.e., negotiations with Israel) should be undertaken. By September 1970, Arafat and his followers had created a virtual Palestinian “mini-state” within Jordan and was using it as its base of operations—which was viewed by the Jordanian regime as a substantial threat—and direct clashes broke out between the Palestinian forces and Jordanian troops. As a result of this, Arafat was forced out of Jordan and eventually made his way to Lebanon via Syria.
Once in Lebanon, Arafat and the PLO used Lebanese territory as a springboard for attacks against Israel. This would eventually lead to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Arafat and the PLO’s expulsion from that country. From Lebanon, Arafat moved to Tunisia, where he remained until the signing of the Oslo Accords, at which time he returned to take control of the newly created Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank. After a series of agreements negotiated with the Israelis that formalized elements of the Oslo Accords and established the Palestinian Council and Palestinian Authority (PA), Arafat was elected president of the PA in 1996.
As tense as his relationship was with leaders in the Arab world, he had a different type of relationship with the leadership of Israel. For many years Israeli leaders sought to marginalize him. Regardless of the international recognition granted to Arafat, Israeli leaders refused to talk to Arafat or acknowledge him as the leader of the Palestinian people. Until the 1990s Israeli leaders consistently branded him a terrorist and refused to recognize or legitimize the PLO—referring to the organization as a terrorist group rather than a government in exile. In this respect, the 1993 Oslo Accords were also a personal victory for Arafat in that, for the first time, an Israeli leader granted explicit recognition to Arafat. Rabin publicly shook Arafat’s hand on the White House lawn and announced to the world that Israel “had a partner” in Arafat.
Many in Israel, however, quickly reapplied the “terrorist” label to Arafat with the collapse of the Oslo Accords and the resumption of violence in 2000. By the end of Arafat’s life, the Israeli leadership had again marginalized the leader; the Israeli government arguing that Arafat was an impediment toward the implementation of a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians rather than a real “partner.” Arafat and forces under his control were viewed as playing a direct role in the coordination of the violence, and as a result the Israelis reoccupied many areas that had been ceded to PA control. Additionally, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) forced Arafat to remain at his Ramallah compound for two years. After he became ill in 2004, the Israeli government allowed him to be transferred to France for treatment, where he died of unknown causes that year.
While many viewed his death as an opportunity for resurrecting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, as of the mid-2000s this has not yet been the case. Although it is difficult to pinpoint any one culprit, the PA created by Arafat was extremely weak and fractious. In fact, some scholars have argued that the structural weaknesses inherent in the PA were deliberate creations of Arafat to keep the body subservient to his own influence and manipulation.
SEE ALSO Meir, Golda; Nobel Peace Prize; Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); Palestinian Authority; Rabin, Yitzhak
Government of Israel, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2002. Cabinet Communiqué: March 29. Jerusalem, Israel. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Communiques/2002/Cabinet%20Communique%20-%2029-Mar-2002.
Nofal, Mamdouh. 2004–2005. Arafat: The Man, The Symbol. Palestine-Israel Journal 11 (3–4): 24–29.
Rubenstein, Danny. 2004–2005. The Arafat Enigma. Palestine-Israel Journal 11 (3–4): 19–23.
Samuels, David. 2005. In a Ruined Country. Atlantic 296 (2): 60–91.
Sela, Avraham, ed. 1999. Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Publishing House.
"Arafat, Yasir." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/arafat-yasir
"Arafat, Yasir." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved March 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/arafat-yasir
Yasir Arafat (yäsēr´ är´äfät; –sər), 1929–2004, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the coordinating body for Palestinian organizations, and head of Al Fatah, the largest group in the PLO. He was born in Cairo, but spent most of his youth in Jerusalem. After smuggling arms to Arab forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Arafat entered Cairo Univ., where he became chairman of the Palestine Student Federation. He served in the Egyptian army during the Suez campaign (1956) and the following year moved to Kuwait, where he trained Palestinian commandos and edited Our Palestine magazine.
Arafat helped found Al Fatah in 1959 and in 1965 returned to Egypt to head Al Assifa, the military arm of Al Fatah. He went on to become leader of Al Fatah, and when the group gained control of the PLO (1969), Arafat was named the larger body's chairman. The PLO won wide support among Palestinians and third-world nations during the 1970s and 80s, although it was weakened by internal divisions. In 1983, after an Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the PLO was forced to move its headquarters to Tunisia.
In 1988 the PLO, under Arafat's leadership, in effect renounced terrorism and accepted Israel's right to coexist with an independent Palestine. A 1993 accord with Israel led to limited Palestinian self-rule in Jericho and the Gaza Strip in 1994, and Arafat became president of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin shared the 1994 Nobel peace prize for the 1993 accord. A 1995 agreement called for self-rule for all Arab cities and villages in the West Bank by 1996; Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian-controlled territory in 1996.
In 1999, Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak signed an agreement to finalize their borders and determine the status of Jerusalem by 2000. The difficulty of resolving, however, those issues stalled negotiations and led (Sept., 2000) to renewed violence. In that fighting, Israel, which accused Arafat of responsibility for Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, at times endangered Arafat's personal safety and enhanced his support among Palestinians. Disillusionment with Arafat's leadership within the Palestinian parliament, however, led it in 2003 to establish the post of prime minister in a largely unsuccessful attempt to reduce his power in the months before his death. Although Arafat brought international attention and support to the Palestinian cause, he was ultimately unable to secure an independent state, and at his death left behind a PLO that was divided within and challenged from without by other Palestinian groups (especially Hamas). In 2013 foreign experts experts who examined his remains and effects disagreed over whether there were indications of deadly polonium poisoning.
"Arafat, Yasir." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arafat-yasir
"Arafat, Yasir." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved March 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arafat-yasir
"Arafat, Yasir." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arafat-yasir
"Arafat, Yasir." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved March 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arafat-yasir