The PLO and Yasser Arafat—From Terrorism to statesmanship to Terrorism

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The PLO and Yasser Arafat—From Terrorism to Statesmanship to Terrorism

The Conflict

From the beginning, Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have been seen by Palestinians and other Arabs as "freedom fighters" seeking to oust the Israelis from Palestine. At the same time, there has been a more general view held outside of the Arab world that has often been less supportive of the Palestinian position. In this second group have been those such as Israel, the United States, and other portions of the international community that have seen Arafat as a terrorist who evolved to a statesman and who now seems to have reverted to the role of terrorist under the increasing violence of the second intifada.


  • A Palestinian nationalist umbrella organization—the Palestine Liberation Organization—was formed in 1964 to represent Palestinians, work for the liberation of Palestine, and establish an independent Palestinian state. Soon headed by Yasser Arafat, the group engaged in what much of the international community considered to be terrorist activities for decades before Arafat officially renounced terrorism in 1988.
  • Arafat was hailed as a hero in 1994 when he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, for his participation in the 1993 Oslo Accords, which established the most solid plan for peace in the region to date.
  • By 2002, after renewed uprising and increasing suicide attacks by Palestinians, Arafat was regarded as a perpetrator of terrorism and an encourager of violence rather than as a statesman seeking to achieve peace in the Middle East.
  • With U.S. and world attention focused on combating terrorism, Arafat's position as the legitimate leader of the Palestinians is under scrutiny while questions rise about his involvement with terrorist activities.

In the spring of 2002 the Israeli-Palestinian component of the Arab-Israeli conflict reemerged as a complex and violent issue that generated widespread international attention. The most senior United States policymakers—the president and vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, and the national security advisor—became directly engaged in this issue and it became a staple of the news listened to, watched, and read by Americans, and much of the rest of the world on a daily basis.

The conflict also seemed to affect other U.S. interests and policies. Some argued that the United States would find it more difficult to gain Arab world support for continued actions against Osama bin Ladin and al-Qaeda in retaliation for the September 11 attacks, as well as for any future steps against Iraq, as long as the Israeli-Palestinian issue remained at a high level of tension.

In the view and minds of most observers, Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are very much synonymous with the Palestine National Authority (PNA or PA) created under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords. At the same time there has been an evolution in the way in which these elements have been perceived. From the beginning, Arafat and the PLO have been seen by Palestinians and other Arabs as the incarnation of, and representation of, the Palestinians in their effort to achieve a state in Palestine—they were "freedom fighters" seeking to oust the Israelis from Palestine. At the same time, there has been a more general view held outside of the Arab world that has often been less supportive of the Palestinian position, and especially of the Palestinian organizations such as the PLO and the PA and of Yasser Arafat. In this second group have been those such as Israel, the United States, along with portions of the international community, that have seen Arafat as a terrorist who evolved to a statesman and who now seems to have reverted to the role of terrorist. The Yasser Arafat who was hailed by many as a hero when he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1994, for his participation in the Oslo Accords in 1993, was, by 2002, regarded as a perpetrator of terrorism and an encourager of violence rather than as a statesman seeking to achieve peace in the Middle East. During a press briefing on February 13, 2002, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer referred to the Palestinian Authority as one of a number of regimes that "invite terrorism and that practice terrorism." He also linked the PA to the "axis of evil" described by US President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address in January 2002.

The U.S. view of Arafat, the PA, and the PLO and its various constituent organizations was strongly suggested by the muted response of the Bush administration to Israel's assault in April 2002 on Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank. The administration was faced with a dilemma, given the parallels between Israel's response to Palestinian terrorist strikes which have killed Israeli civilians in Israel and the U.S. response in Afghanistan to the September 11 attacks on the United States. This followed suggestions that Israel had the right of self-defense especially when the United States had labeled the attacks against Israeli civilians as acts of terror although Palestinians civilians have also been killed by Israeli actions. After the initial Israeli assault and the siege of Arafat's headquarters, the United States noted that it was "monitoring the events very closely and assessing appropriate responses." The United States suggested that Arafat should act to stop terror and violence. Secretary Powell, on March 29, 2001, noted that "terrorism" had brought about the crisis and that it had prevented a political move in the direction of peace. Powell made it clear that opposition to and combating terrorism was the central theme of the Bush administration and that it insisted that Arafat take actions to stop terrorist bombings and implement a cease-fire. Powell made it clear that the onus was on Arafat for the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. Bush reacted similarly in comments from his Crawford, Texas, ranch on March 30.

Historical Background

How Did this Evolution of Arafat and the PLO Occur?

The core of the Arab-Israeli conflict is more than 100 years old and focuses on the ultimate disposition of the territory long known as Palestine—a small piece of land located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. This territory was contested by Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Zionists for much of the twentieth century and this conflict has continued into the twenty-first century.

The Arab-Israeli conflict as a contemporary political issue with military and para-military components began in the Palestine sector of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century when the Zionist movement sought to establish a Jewish home in Palestine, where the historic Jewish state had been located. Violence in Palestine periodically broke out between the Zionist Jews and the Arabs. The Arabs of Palestine opposed the influx of Jewish immigrants and sales of land to them; the Zionists sought to purchase land and to increase Jewish immigration to the Holy Land to bolster the Jewish community already there.

Despite promises to both Arabs and Zionists made during World War I (1914-18), the British government accepted a League of Nations mandate over Palestine—control it maintained until 1948—despite sporadic violence between the communities in Palestine. It was only after World War II (1939-45), and against the background of the Holocaust, that the Zionist movement achieved a part of its goal with the United Nations decision of November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state with the city of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (a separate entity) administered by the United Nations. Israel, however, was faced with the rejection of the partition decision by the Arabs of Palestine and by the League of Arab States. When Britain terminated its Mandate over Palestine on May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence. Despite Western hopes for peaceful coexistence with its Arab neighbors in Palestine and in the broader Middle East, the declaration of independence was greeted by a declaration of war, in effect formalizing the hostilities that followed the UN partition vote.

The first Arab-Israeli War was followed by a number of other major conflicts and thousands of less-than-war clashes and events, including guerrilla warfare and terrorist strikes. During the period between the first Arab-Israel War in 1948-49 and the Six Day War of 1967, a number of guerrilla/terrorist organizations were created whose goal was to strike at Israel and replace it with a Palestinian Arab state. Among these was Fatah, a group co-founded by Arafat and which remains a major component of the PLO and closely linked to Arafat.

At the same time the decades after 1948 were marked by strident Arab opposition to Israel's existence. Thus, for example, the Palestine National Covenant of 1964 called the creation of Israel null and void. Article 19 of the Covenant read: "The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the State of Israel are entirely illegal …" Article 20 reads: "The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void." At the 1967 Arab League summit meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, after the Six Day War the Arab states adopted a resolution, which spoke of "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it." Israelis recall that when President Anwar Sadat of Egypt initiated peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel (1977), and later made peace with it (1979), he was assassinated by extremists and Egypt was ostracized by many in the Arab world. Arafat and the PLO opposed the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty as a capitulation to Israeli demands and a selling-out of the Palestinians. The goal was an Arab Palestinian state in place of Israel.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

At an Arab Summit in Cairo in 1964, the Arab League decided to form a Palestinian nationalist umbrella organization—the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—that would represent Palestinians and work for "the liberation of Palestine" and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in lieu of Israel. Ahmed Shukairy was chosen to head the new organization.

The Palestine National Council (PNC) became the highest Palestinian policymaking body. In 1970, it established a Central Committee to act on its behalf when it is not in session. The Executive Committee of the PLO is akin to the executive branch of government. It implements PNC decisions and is responsible to it. It speaks for the Palestinian people and represents them internationally. The PLO includes all the Palestinian Armed Resistance (commando) groups, as well as a number of popular organizations, including the General Union of Palestinian Workers, the General Union of Palestinian Students, the General Union of Palestinian Writers and Journalists, the General Union of Palestinian Doctors, the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, and other such groups. Additional institutions were developed over time by the PLO. These included such groups as the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA). The United States has considered the PLO an umbrella organization that includes several constituent groups and individuals with differing views on terrorism.

The PLO gained renewed energy after the Arab defeat in the Six Day War of 1967 and Shukairy was forced to resign in December 1967. At the Palestine National Congress held in February 1969, Yasser Arafat was elected chairman of the PLO's Executive Committee. In the 1970s and 1980s PLO elements staged a series of terrorist attacks, including airplane hijackings and the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which drew world attention to the Palestinian cause. Israel responded by tracking the terrorists, both individuals and groups, by improving security in Israel and on its national airline (El Al), and by launching retaliatory raids against terrorist groups and the countries that provided safe havens and bases from which to operate against Israel.

In the 1970s and early 1980s terrorist attacks against Israel often were launched from neighboring Arab states. After being ousted from Jordan in 1970 the PLO and Arafat moved to Syria and Lebanon. Raids launched from Lebanon led to an Israeli attack against Palestinian groups in Lebanon in 1978 in Operation Litani. Their objective was to destroy bases and infrastructure of the PLO in Lebanon and to capture or destroy weapons, ammunition, and war material. Despite some success, PLO attacks against Israeli targets continued.

In June 1982 Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee (the war in Lebanon)—a major military action against the PLO in Lebanon in order to reduce its military and terrorist threat to Israel and as a major response to years of PLO terror attacks against Israel and its people. At the end of the fighting Yasser Arafat and his associates were allowed to transfer the PLO's headquarters to Tunis, from which they operated until they moved to Jericho and Gaza after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Attacks against Israel were reduced in number and severity over the next few years.

In 1987 the first intifada (uprising) began in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Palestinians saw this as a means to bring about the end to Israeli occupation of those territories that Israel captured in 1967 as a result of its successful defense in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war and to promote an independent Palestinian state. Palestinians also sought to gain a representative role for the PLO in negotiations with Israel and the United States rather than remain isolated as a terrorist organization with which neither Israel nor the United States would deal. PLO chairman Arafat publicly renounced terrorism in December 1988 on behalf of the PLO.

U.S. Dialogue with the PLO (December 14, 1988)

As part of the Egypt-Israel Sinai II Accords negotiations in 1975, a Memorandum of Agreement between the governments of Israel and the United States spelled out the U.S. position concerning the PLO: "The United States will continue to adhere to its present policy with respect to the Palestine Liberation Organization, whereby it will not recognize or negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization so long as the Palestine Liberation Organization does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338." Later, in the Carter administration (1977-81), renunciation of terrorism was added to the requirements that the PLO would need to meet prior to a dialogue with the United States. These conditions were not accepted by the PLO until late in the second Reagan administration (1981-89).

In December 1988 Yasser Arafat, in a speech to the United Nations suggested that the PLO had decided to meet these requirements. The statement, however, was not unambiguous and, thus on December 14 Arafat, in a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, clarified his position:

… Our desire for peace is a strategy and not an interim tactic…Our statehood provides salvation to the Palestinians and peace to both Palestinians and Israelis. Self-determination means survival for the Palestinians and our survival does not destroy the survival of the Israelis as their rulers claim …

As for terrorism, … we totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorism, including individual, group and state terrorism.

In response to Arafat's declaration, the United States announced that it was prepared to hold a substantive dialogue through U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau. "The Palestine Liberation Organization today issued a statement in which it accepted U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security and renounced terrorism. As a result, the United States is prepared for a substantive dialogue with PLO representatives." A dialogue began but no major achievements were recorded until after the Gulf War (1991). The dialogue between the United States and the PLO was suspended after the PLO failed to condemn the May 30, 1990, Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) attack on Israeli beaches.

In the 1990s, especially after the Oslo negotiations and the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, Arafat seemed to be moving from terrorist to statesman—from militant to peace seeker. Among other elements, he became the leader, duly elected, of the PA.

The Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

The Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) had its origins in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, which initially diverted attention from the Arab-Israeli arena to the Persian Gulf sector of the Middle East. When the Gulf War hostilities ended, the United States initiated an exploratory effort that culminated in an Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid, Spain, in October 1991. A brief ceremonial opening of the peace conference was followed by direct bilateral negotiations involving Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians, as well as multilateral negotiations on specific functional issues such as water, refugees, economic development, and the environment. Israelis greeted this process with caution and skepticism, given Arab hostility toward Israel and the continuing Palestinian intifada in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians were also cautious. Nevertheless, the Madrid Conference marked a watershed—the major Arab confrontation states (and the Palestinians) for the first time met with Israel in direct, face-to-face negotiations to consider the substantive issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Madrid meetings were followed by several rounds of bilateral talks in Washington, DC, later in 1991 and 1992 during which the wide gap between the Israeli and Arab positions was not narrowed. In the spring of 1993 a parallel channel of discussion between Israelis and Palestinians began in Oslo, Norway, under the aegis and with the facilitation of Norway's foreign minister, Johan Jorgen Holst. The talks were secret and known to but a handful of individuals. They led to an agreement, "the Oslo Accords," that was initialed in Norway during the summer of 1993. The result of the negotiations, the Declaration of Principles (DOP), was formally signed on the White House lawn in Washington, DC, by Israeli and Palestinian representatives with Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin present on September 13, 1993, and paved the way for further Israel-PLO negotiations and accords.

As part of the arrangement, Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security, accepted UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and renounced the use of terrorism and violence. The process thus inaugurated was to culminate in a permanent peace settlement. The signing of the DOP marked the beginning of a new period in Israel's approach to peace. The agreement also formally marked Arafat's transition from "terrorist" to statesman.

The Israelis and the Palestinians began public and formal negotiations in the fall of 1993, after the signing of the DOP. By May 1994 they had reached an agreement, signed in Cairo, that provided for negotiations to resolve the issues of the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The agreement also included how much Israel would turn over to Palestinian control, within a relatively short period. Israel and the PLO gave themselves five years (with a deadline of May 4, 1999) to negotiate the permanent (or final) status of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, on the difficult issues including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, regional neighborly arrangements, and other issues of common interest.

The MEPP launched at Madrid, and given impetus with the Oslo Accords, involved substantial negotiations between Israel and the PLO. During this period Arafat and the PLO were seen, formally at least, as peace partners negotiating for the termination of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, not as terrorists whose ultimate goal was the destruction of Israel. Nevertheless, while there was some progress toward a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there were Palestinian groups that continued to engage in terrorist activity (these included HAMAS and Islamic Jihad) while Israel continued to build Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Camp David II and the al-Aqsa Intifada

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations launched after the signing of the Oslo Accords were punctuated by successes, but also by failures and violence. When Ehud Barak was elected prime minister of Israel in 1999 the process was reinvigorated. His victory was seen as a repudiation of outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his generally skeptical views of Arafat and of the MEPP, and as a positive omen, since Barak had run on a platform stressing peace through negotiations.

Negotiations resumed soon after Barak's election but little progress was made. Six years after the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, Israel and the PLO had yet to conclude their negotiations on territory and there was no agreement on any of the "final status" issues. Despite hope for progress, little was achieved after Barak's election. As the U.S. administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) entered its final year in office, accelerated efforts suggested a possible tripartite summit, bringing Clinton, Barak, and Arafat together. The objective of the negotiations at Camp David, known as Camp David II, was to put together a package which Barak believed would generate acceptance and recognition from the Palestinians, which had eluded Israel to that point, on the basis of a two peoples, two state solution within the region. This, however, was not to be. Arafat left the negotiating table rather than respond to an offer by Barak and thereby provided the basis for the al-Aqsa intifada, which soon brought violence to the area. The al-Aqsa intifada, a violent uprising by Palestinians, broke out after a controverisal visit by Ariel Sharon to the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount site—holy to both Jews and Muslims. Sharon was subsequently elected as Israel's prime minister in February 2001.

The historic reconciliation, begun with the handshake in Washington at the signing of the DOP, would not be followed by peace. In January 2001, after meetings at Taba, Egypt, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators noted they were closer now than they have ever been to reaching an agreement, but no agreement was codified.

As the Middle East Peace Process moved along from the high point at Oslo to the low point of Camp David II the assumption underlying that process was that Arafat, the PLO, and the PA, as well as other centrist Palestinian organizations and institutions, were committed to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict through peaceful means, that is, negotiations, not through violence and terrorism. On that basis, the PLO was no longer seen as a terrorist organization and neither was Arafat by the majority of observers. Some Israelis and others, however, never accepted that view and believed him still to be the terrorist he had been identified as in the past.

With the failure at Camp David II and the start of the al-Aqsa intifada, this perception of the PLO and Arafat as part of the terrorist camp began to grow significantly. When the U.S. State Department issued its Patterns of Global Terrorism report for 2000 it included, for the first time since the signing of the DOP, criticism of mainstream elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization. These included Israeli accusations that the largest PLO faction, Fatah, took part in terrorist activities.

Al-Aqsa Intifada, Suicide Bombers, and Operation Defensive Shield

The current crisis erupted in September 2000 when the second intifada began in the aftermath of the failed Camp David II summit. Israel accused Arafat of resorting to violence as a tool to achieve political objectives, in violation of the Oslo Accords, and of resorting to terrorism after rejecting Israel's peace offer at Camp David, which was not wholly agreeable to the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership argued that Israel's offers were not just and Israel remained an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, continuing a series of illegal actions such as confiscation of Palestinian land for illegal Jewish settlements.

Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed. Israeli civilians have been killed by a series of Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli soldiers and civilians have been shot by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel's response has taken various forms including "targeted killings" of Palestinian militants, reprisal raids into West Bank cities and refugee camps, the shelling and bombing of Palestinian facilities, and other actions resulting in the destruction of Palestinian homes and the deaths of Palestinian civilians.

In the wake of the failure of the Camp David II summit and Ariel Sharon's controversial visit tothe al-Aqsa/Temple Mount site, violence began in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and this soon deteriorated into suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilian targets. These were seen within Israel, and by others, as suicide attacks against civilians, hence terrorism. In most instances the Israelis were able to connect the terrorist bombers directly to Palestinian organizations and institutions.

As more suicide (later to be called "homicide" or "martyrdom") bombers attacked Israeli civilian targets with greater lethality, Israel began to increase its responses to these actions proclaiming its right of self-defense. Since late in 2001, when Israel destroyed his helicopters, Yasser Arafat was confined to the West Bank city of Ramallah and to his presidential compound there.

By the spring of 2002 the situation had reached a low point when Israel decided to act in self defense against the growing number of terrorist attacks and launched a military operation into the West Bank to destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. After Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield as this military operation was called and laid siege to the West Bank city of Ramallah, Arafat was further confined to his headquarters in Ramallah—effectively isolated.

On March 21, 2002, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau released the following statement:

It is Arafat who is solely responsible for the continuation of murderous terrorist attacks. Arafat has done nothing up until now to advance the cease-fire and he is acting—whether covertly or through inability—to torpedo the mission of General (ret.) Zinni. Israel will be unable—for long—to persist in a uni-lateral effort to implement the Tenet document. This must be clear to all who expect a change of direction on the part of the Palestinian Authority, i.e. a halt to violence and terror.

As the regional situation had deteriorated, there arose doubt about Arafat's ability to control terrorist attacks carried out by groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. Some questioned his motivation, some his desire, and some his ability. As the number and severity of the attacks grew, and there was a closer examination of them and the perpetrators, it was suggested that Arafat was more directly linked to the acts and those who carried them out. By early 2002 it became clear that groups connected directly to Arafat's Fatah group and especially the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (added to the Foreign Terrorist Organization list by the United States in early 2002) were directly involved.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade was linked to Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO. Some of the Brigade's leaders admitted to taking orders from Arafat, others denied the connection. Many of its members apparently were also on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority, often as members of the Palestinian security services.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade provided a specific link between terrorism and Arafat. It is a new organization that apparently was formed around the time of the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada. Over the ensuing months it emerged in the fore-front of the organizations and has been the major perpetrator of terrorist attacks against Israel—with growing lethality. Initially it focused its attacks on soldiers and on Jewish settlers in the West Bank, but by the beginning of 2002 it struck within Israel at civilian targets. Support and financing was provided directly from Palestinian Authority resources, and from evidence gathered by Israel, it appears that Arafat had the most direct control over it.

The Brigade draws recruits from Arafat's various security services. It appears to be formally subordinate to Tanzim, the radical youth militia force of Fatah. The Tanzim leader is Marwan Barghouti, whom the Israelis captured on April 15, 2002. They had evidence that showed his involvement in financing terrorist activities in Israel, mostly through the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. They also had documentation of the connection from Arafat to Barghouti and then to the al-Aqsa Brigades to fund their activities.

Arafat's link to the growing terrorism against Israel was difficult to formally prove. Nevertheless there was growing "documentation" of Arafat's role as well as that of the PLO and the PA. Israel and others saw Arafat as the man who had promised in a series of agreements and statements to abandon terrorism and to use his forces to prevent it, but he instead betrayed those pledges. The peace process that developed with the Oslo agreements ultimately depended on Arafat being a serious partner for peace, which the allegations of terrorism involvement put into doubt.

In the first months of 2002 there were a number of developments that produced a clear and specific linkage between the terrorist actions and Arafat's Palestinian Authority and related groups. In January 2002 Israeli commandos seized a boat carrying some 50 tons of weapons traveling from Iran to the Palestinian Authority. These weapons were in excess of the quantities and types of weapons approved by the Oslo Accords for the Palestinian Authority. For Israel this was proof that Arafat was preparing for a new round of violence, not trying to stem the violence that had disrupted the peace process. The Palestinians dismissed these charges as Israeli propaganda. Israel provided evidence that the Palestinian Authority owned the intercepted ship (Karine A) and that the captain was an officer in the Palestinian naval police. The weapons included long range rockets that could reach all parts of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. U.S. President George W. Bush (2001-) noted on January 25: "Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror, that's enhancing terror, and obviously we're very disappointed in him [Arafat]." Later during Operation Defensive Shield, Israel captured documents that showed a direct link between Palestinian officials closely linked to Arafat and the terrorist operations. This included an "invoice" for funds to pay for bomb components. There was also documentation of cash payments to various members of Tanzim and Fatah, which have been involved in terrorist attacks on Israel.

The United States and Palestinian Terrorism After 9/11

As the situation deteriorated the Bush administration developed a clear perception of the connection between violence, terrorism, the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, and Arafat. U.S. Secretary of State Powell, on December 1, 2001, said:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the evil and horrific terrorist attacks in Jerusalem tonight …I have spoken which Chairman Arafat and have made absolutely clear that these despicable and cowardly actions must be brought to an end …through immediate, comprehensive, and sustained action by the Palestinian Authority against both the individuals responsible and the infrastructure of the groups that support them. There can be no excuse for failure to take immediate and thorough action against the perpetrators of these vile acts.

After a major suicide bombing in Jerusalem, President Bush, on December 2, 2001, condemned the bombing in these terms:

I strongly condemn them as acts of murder that no person of conscience can tolerate and no cause can ever justify …Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must immediately find and arrest those responsible for these hideous murders …Now more than ever, Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate through their actions, and not merely their words, their commitment to fight terror.

Two days later, on December 4, 2001, Bush said: "The message is this: Those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States or anywhere else the United States can reach."

The Bush Doctrine

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, President George W. Bush developed a series of new policies concerning terrorism. Slowly these evolved into what the media and the administration referred to as the Bush Doctrine. These helped to provide the framework within which the U.S. administration (and the Congress) developed its views and policies concerning the Palestinians and Arafat.

The elements of the doctrine were slow to be articulated and included the U.S. conception of the terrorist phenomenon. There was the notion that there is no such thing as a "good terrorist" although others seek exemptions for "freedom fighters." The president noted that no cause justifies attacks on civilians. At Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in November 2001, the president said: "America has a message for the nations of the world: If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist; if you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist; if you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends." An indicator of the central theme was articulated by Bush on January 10, 2002 when he noted: "Our nation, in our fight against terrorism, will uphold the doctrine of either you're with us or against us."

This theme of choosing between being with the United States against terrorism or with the terrorists, was restated and elaborated in subsequent statements. In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute on April 17, 2002, Bush said (emphasis added):

Every nation that needs our help will have it. And no nation can be neutral. Around the world, the nations must choose. They are with us, or they're with the terrorists.

And in the Middle East, where acts of terror have triggered mounting violence, all parties have a choice to make. Every leader, every state must choose between two separate paths: the path of peace or the path of terror …Now, every nation and every leader in the region must work to end terror.

All parties have responsibilities … The Palestinian Authority must act, must act on its words of condemnation against terror …All parties have a responsibility to stop funding or inciting terror. And all parties must say clearly that a murderer is not a martyr; he or she is just a murderer.

Despite U.S. and Israeli condemnation, terrorist actions continued, often in response to Israeli efforts to crackdown on Palestinian violence. On April 12, 2002 a suicide bomber struck in Jerusalem during Secretary Powell's mission to halt the violence and restore a political process to lead to peace. A White House spokesman encouraged Arafat to publicly denounce terrorist attacks, believing that such a statement would help distance Arafat from the terrorism and garner him more international support.

In connecting Arafat to terrorism a crucial element is the parallelism between the events in Israel and those of September 11 in New York City and Washington, DC. The Bush administration made this connection on numerous occasions in several ways. In an interview on MSNBC-TV on April 12, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked: "Is it hard for you to look at that [a suicide attack in Jerusalem] and not see what Israel is engaged in as the same war on terror that you are leading in this country?" He responded:

There's no question that terror and terrorism involves the killing of innocent men, women and children. And that's what happened in this building six months ago, that's what happened in New York at the World Trade Centers, and it clearly is what's happening in Israel. When a suicide bomber goes in and takes their own life and kills innocent men, women and children, the word "terror" is the correct word.

Arafat Redefined as "Terrorist"

Secretary of State Powell, in his April 2002 visit, was sent to the region to help the situation move toward peace. The initial emphasis of his visit was to get action to halt violence. On April 12, 2002 Powell said: "I'm not interested just in declarations; I am interested in performance and action." Arafat later issued a statement in Arabic condemning terrorism.

Whatever his formal label by mid-2002 Yasser Arafat was widely seen by virtually all Israelis, and numerous others, as a terrorist. After September 11, 2001, as the United States expanded its view and definition of terrorism, Arafat seemed to qualify. In the wake of Camp David II and the violence of the second intifada, Arafat was seen as moving from negotiations back to the violence that characterized Palestinian policy prior to the 1988 dis-avowal of terrorism by Arafat. Arafat was called upon by the United States to exercise leadership, to speak out, and to punish those responsible for suicide attacks. He was to bring them to justice. Failure to do so would, U.S. officials said, undermine his leadership of the Palestinian Authority and would undermine the dreams and hopes of the Palestinians for their own state and for peace in the Middle East.

President Bush has, since September 11, equated terrorists with those who harbor and support them, but has been reluctant to apply the formal label to Arafat despite his fitting the broad definition created by the administration. The primary reason for not doing so has been because Arafat, as the Palestinian leader, has been essential to the peace process to which he agreed at Madrid and Oslo.

So while Arafat has been held responsible for attacks against Israel by terrorist organizations, he was not formally labeled as a terrorist. The U.S. administration continued to make clear its view that Arafat could, at minimum, slow down, if not stop, terrorist activity. He could also condemn the actions in statements directly to the people of Palestine and the Arab world. The Bush theme could be summed up in the concept: "They're not martyrs. They're murderers." Palestinians, however, might argue that they are responding to an oppressive, occuppying force in hopes of gaining their freedom.

Arafat's condemnation of the terrorist attack in Jerusalem in April was equivocal, symptomatic of the mixed messages often provided by the Palestinian leader. In that vein it is also useful to note that his wife, Suha al-Taweel Arafat, in an interview published in the Arabic language magazine Al Majalla on April 12, 2002, said that she endorsed suicide attacks as legitimate actions against Israel because of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. She noted that if she had a son there would be "no greater honor" than to sacrifice himself for the Palestinian cause. What then is the message?

The connection of Arafat to the Bush Doctrine was articulated on a number of occasions, including the Bush statement on March 21, 2002 where he noted:

America will fight terror wherever we find it, and as well, we will call upon leaders around the world to do so … Mr. Arafat must do more to stop violence in the Middle East …the Secretary of State and I will remind leaders of their obligation to defend innocent people; of their obligation to stamp out terrorists wherever they light; of their obligation to make sure they uphold this doctrine: If you harbor a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists themselves.

By this construction Arafat, and his institutions and subordinates, were "just as guilty as the terrorists themselves."

Recent History and the Future

At the end of April 2002 Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to a Bush administration compromise proposal to end an armed siege of Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which began on March 29, 2002. The decision by Israel to accept the compromise resulted, in part, from American pressure to do so. As part of the compromise, Israel agreed that the six Palestinians held in Palestinian custody for assassinating Israel's tourism minister would be held in Palestinian custody in Jericho, but their confinement would be monitored by British and American wardens. Israel had demanded the ex-tradition of the men as its condition for releasing Arafat from confinement in Ramallah since December 2001, and from a portion of his compound there since March 29, 2002. President Bush welcomed the news with the observation, on April 28, that it was a "hopeful" day. He said, "Chairman Arafat is now free to move around and free to lead …" Bush also made it clear that he expected Arafat to "perform" in combating violence.

In early May 2002 the United States announced that it would convene a peace conference with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations in summer 2002 to deal with the various issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. From the Palestinian and broader Arab perspective Arafat remained the only leader for the Palestinians and thus an essential participant in the discussions concerning the future. For Israel, Arafat was not an appropriate partner because of his role in anti-Israel violence and terror. The preliminary concept suggested bypassing the issue by holding the meeting at the level of foreign ministers and not heads of state or government. That would avoid the problem of Arafat's participation and the question of his role as a legitimate partner versus his role as an ineffectual leader of the Palestinians and his failure in preventing terrorism.

In pressing for the conference President Bush noted in a statement on May 2, 2002, after meeting with European leaders, that the goal of the conference and of his administration's efforts was: "A Palestinian state must be achieved by negotiation of an end to occupation. And such a state cannot be based on a foundation of terror or corruption." While clearly believing that the Europeans, the Russians, and the United Nations could be helpful, it was also the administration's position that the Arab states and their leaders would have to play a role in moving the process along, especially with efforts focusing on Arafat and the Palestinians. The administration clearly put much of the responsibility for the process on Israel and the Palestinians and, in the case of Arafat, stressed that much was expected of him, as Secretary Powell noted: "With respect to Chairman Arafat, it's not a question of rehabilitating him. He knows what is expected of him."


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Bernard Reich

MMichael Buczek


May 14, 1948 Israel proclaims its independence. The first Arab-Israeli War begins.

December 1949 Jordan's King Abdullah annexes theWest Bank and East Jerusalem.

January 1964 The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is created in Cairo, Egypt.

January 1, 1965 Fatah launches its first attack againstIsrael.

June 5-10, 1967 In the Six Day War, Israel captures theWest Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

August 1967 An Arab Summit at Khartoum, Sudan, declares "no recognition, no negotiation, no peace with Israel."

November 22, 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 is adopted, designed to be the basis for an Arab-Israeli peace, emphasizing an exchange of land for peace. This has been the basis of all subsequent Arab-Israeli peace efforts.

February 1-4, 1969 Yasser Arafat is elected chairman of the PLO.

September 1970 Conflict breaks out in Jordan between the Jordanian armed forces and the PLO. The PLO is ousted from Jordan.

October 6-22, 1973 The Yom Kippur/Ramadan War begins when Syria and Egypt launch a coordinated attack on Israeli positions on the Suez Canal and Golan Heights. The war ends in a ceasefire.

October 1974 The PLO adopts a phased program for liberation of Palestine. The Arab League designates the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

November 13, 1974 Arafat addresses the UN GeneralAssembly; the PLO is later granted observer status and allowed to participate in debates on the Arab-Israeli question.

September 5-17, 1978 Israeli leader Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David Accords.

March 26, 1979 The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty is signed in Washington, DC.

June 6, 1982 Responding to Palestinian attacks from southern Lebanon, Israel invades Lebanon in Operation Peace for Galilee.

July-August 1982 Israel lays siege to Beirut.

August 1982 A multinational peacekeeping force entersBeirut to oversee the PLO's evacuation from Lebanon. PLO forces are dispersed to a number of Arab countries. Arafat and his aides establish themselves in Tunisia.

December 9, 1987 The first Palestinian intifada begins.

November 15, 1988 The Palestine National Council (PNC) in Algiers declares an independent Palestinian state.

December 1988 Arafat addresses the United Nations inGeneva. He recognizes Israel's right to exist, accepts UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338, and renounces terrorism. The United States announces that it will begin a dialogue with the PLO in Tunisia.

October 30, 1991 An Arab-Israeli peace conference begins in Madrid, Spain.

Spring 1993 Secret negotiations between Israel and thePLO occur in Oslo, Norway.

September 13, 1993 The Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles (DOP) is signed in Washington, DC.

December 10, 1994 Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, andYitzhak Rabin receive the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

July 1, 1995 Israel and the PLO fail to meet their deadline for agreement on expansion of the Palestinian self-rule authority beyond Gaza and Jericho into other locations in the West Bank.

January 1996 Arafat is elected head of the PalestineNational Authority.

1995-2000 Negotiations between Israel and the PLO continue sporadically.

Summer 2000 The Camp David II Summit fails to achieve an agreement. Soon thereafter the al-Aqsa intifada begins. Over succeeding months the violence escalates, including suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.

March 2002 Israel launches Operation Defensive Shield in retaliation to Palestinian suicide bombings.

March 27, 2002 The U.S. Department of State designates the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization.

April 1, 2002 U.S. President George W. Bush publicly encourages Arafat to denounce Palestinian attacks against Israel and take stronger leadership measures to halt violence.

Yasser Arafat

1929- Yasser Arafat was born of Palestinian parentage on August 4, 1929, in Cairo, Egypt. As a boy, he ran errands and delivered messages for the Mufti of Jerusalem, and later worked as an arms smuggler for the Mufti's Arab partisans. A mufti is a Muslim expert in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. After the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Arafat enrolled in Cairo University to study engineering. There, he dedicated much of his time to the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), on which he served as both president and chairman.

After graduating in 1956, Arafat moved to Kuwait, and founded the guerilla group Fatah, whose frequent cross-border attacks against Israel contributed to the outbreak of the 1967 war. Following the war, his revolutionary exploits allowed him to rise to the post of Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and he used the position to adjust the PLO's traditionally pan-Arab objectives—the aspiration for the unity of all the Arabs in one unit rather than a series of individual Arab national units, such as Palestine, Egypt, Syria, etc.—with those advocating Palestinian liberation. Arafat's diplomatic skills, however, were hampered by his lack of foresight and mercurial nature, which ultimately led to the PLO's forced eviction from bases in Jordan during the 1970s and Lebanon in the early 1980s.

Although Arafat's open support for Iraq's Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War marked a major diplomatic and financial mistake, his political career was saved by the historic nature of the Oslo Accord he signed with Israel less then three years later. For this, he was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Under post-Oslo agreements, Israel began withdrawing from territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that was to be governed by the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA), to which Arafat was elected president. Palestinians accused the Israelis of failing to implement the agreements properly, pointing especially to the continuation of the building of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. Permanent status negotiations were begun at Camp David II in the summer of 2000, Arafat, however, rejected Israeli proposals on Palestinian statehood, and failed to make any counteroffers. Several months later, after a controversial visit by now Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem, the second Palestinian uprising (intifada) began, and despite the US efforts of the Tenet plan and Mitchell ceasefire, Arafat has done little to quell the increasing violence and resume the peace process.

The 1994 Nobel Peace Prize

In recognition of the protracted conflict in the Middle East and the long measures taken to move towards peace in the region, as significantly noted by the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1994 to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. The announcement for the prize issued by the Nobel Committee in October 1994 referred to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its other neighbors, as "among the most irreconcilable and menacing in international politics." It further stated that, "The parties have caused each other great suffering. By concluding the Oslo Accords, and subsequently following them up, Arafat, Peres, and Rabin have made substantial contributions to a historic process through which peace and cooperation can replace war and hate."

Arafat, on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which he led, publicly renounced terrorism in 1988. The 1993 Oslo Accords were a pinnacle moment for Arafat and the PLO. In making a serious effort towards peace, Arafat succeeded in achieving legitimacy for his organization and its cause and garnered significant international approval for his peacemaking attempts in an intractable conflict. The road, for both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders, was a difficult one. Both sides had to overcome objections and criticism from extremist groups and reassure their publics that the Oslo Accords were a positive step for all sides involved.

In concluding its announcement for the peace prize, the Nobel Committee recognized the obstacles Arafat, Peres, and Rabin had faced and would continue to face, noting that the award was intended "to honor a political act which called for great courage on both sides … It is the Committee's hope that the award will serve as an encouragement to all the Israelis and Palestinians who are endeavoring to establish lasting peace in the region."


Al-Fatah, meaning "conquest," is an acronym that, when reversed, stands for Harakat al-Tahrir al-Falistin (Movement for the Liberation of Palestine). It was founded in the late 1950s by a group of Palestinian students, including Yasser Arafat, in Cairo, Egypt. Fatah is the oldest of the Palestinian organizations. From the outset it saw the liberation of Palestine as the primary task, and the victory of the Algerian revolution spurred Fatah supporters in their cause. The Algerian revolution was launched on November 1, 1954, by Algerians seeking the end of French rule in Algeria and an independent Algerian state. French President Charles de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria independent on July 3, 1962.

The first armed action by Fatah against Israel took place on January 1, 1965, a date that has since been commemorated. Only after the Six Day War of 1967, however, did Fatah became prominent in the Palestinian movement. The battle at Karameh in March 1968 between the Israeli army and Fatah forces based in Jordan enhanced Arafat's prestige. It was then that a large unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched an assault on the Jordanian villages of Karameh and Shune in response to repeated terrorist attacks launched from bases in Jordan. Each side claimed victory in the ensuing battle. For Fatah this was a clear victory because it was able to hold its ground and inflict substantial losses on the IDF. As word of the accomplishment spread, Fatah and the PLO were elevated to the level of folk heroes, the legend grew, and Fatah membership expanded.

Headed by Yasser Arafat, Fatah joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1968 and won the leadership role of the organization in 1969. Its leaders were expelled from Jordan in 1970 and 1971. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War numerous Palestinians had moved into Jordan, from which various Palestinian organizations launched numerous raids into Israel. Their presence and actions, in addition to Israeli responses, proved destabilizing to Jordan, leading to fighting between the PLO and the Jordanian armed forces. The PLO was defeated in September 1970 and was forced to move from Jordan to Syria and then to Lebanon, which was unable to prevent the establishment of a "state-within-a-state" by the PLO and especially by Fatah in southern Lebanon. From these positions they launched attacks on Israel, to which the Israelis responded with attacks on Fatah and the PLO positions in Lebanon in 1978 and then again in 1982.

Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to the group's dispersal to several Arab states, including Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, and Iraq. It has several components that have been involved in terrorist attacks, including Force 17 and the Hawari Secial Operations Group. Two of its senior leaders, Abu Jihad and Abu Iyad, were assassinated. Fatah's armed wing is known as Al-Asifa ("The Storm").

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The PLO and Yasser Arafat—From Terrorism to statesmanship to Terrorism

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