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Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat

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.

Youthful Politics

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.

Further Reading

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). □

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Arafat, Yasir

Yasir Arafat

Born: October 24, 1929
Cairo, Egypt

Palestinian political leader, military leader, and president

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.

Background

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 (191418), 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 (19351999) 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 (19181981) in 197779. 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 (19221995) 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.

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Arafat, Yasir

Arafat, Yasir 1929-2004

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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. Arafats 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 ones territorya 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 operationswhich was viewed by the Jordanian regime as a substantial threatand 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 PLOs 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 PLOreferring 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 Arafats 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 Arafats 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

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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. 20042005. Arafat: The Man, The Symbol. Palestine-Israel Journal 11 (34): 2429.

Rubenstein, Danny. 20042005. The Arafat Enigma. Palestine-Israel Journal 11 (34): 1923.

Samuels, David. 2005. In a Ruined Country. Atlantic 296 (2): 6091.

Sela, Avraham, ed. 1999. Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Publishing House.

Rachel Bzostek

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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.

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Arafat, Yasir

Arafat, Yasir (1929–2004) Palestinian statesman, first president of Palestine (1996–2004), leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), b. Egypt.From a base in Lebanon, Arafat led the anti-Israel guerrilla organization, Fatah. He sought the abolition of Israel and the creation of a secular Palestinian state. The Intifada in Israel's occupied territories (Gaza and the West Bank) prompted secret talks between Israel and the PLO. In 1993, Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed an agreement in which Arafat renounced terrorism and recognized the state of Israel. In return, Rabin recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of Palestinians and agreed to a withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the occupied territories. In 1994 the Palestinian National Authority, headed by Arafat, assumed limited self-rule in the territories relinquished by the Israeli army. Arafat became president in 1996 elections. Following the failure of the Oslo peace process in 2000, Arafat was involved in a new intifada. This lead to Israel blockading him into his West Bank headquarters in 2001. He was unable to leave until 2004, when he was allowed to travel to Paris for treatment for his final illness.

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Arafat, Yasir

Yasir Arafat

August 24, 1929

Cairo, Egypt or Palestine

Leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization

"I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

Y asir Arafat has represented the Palestinian people on the world stage since the 1960s, first as a terrorist leader and later as a peace negotiator in an area that has seen almost constant warfare since the end of World War I (1914–18). He has caused controversy every step of the way.

Childhood

Arafat was born on August 24, 1929, and given the name Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini. As a boy, he was called Yasir (meaning "easygoing"). The controversy surrounding him begins with his birthplace. The Nobel Prize committee and the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs say he was born in Cairo, Egypt. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) says it was Jerusalem, which was then located in what was called the Palestine Mandate, controlled by Britain. Arafat himself declared in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in November 1974 that "Palestine was the cradle of the most ancient cultures and civilizations… . As a son of Jerusalem, I treasure for myself and my people beautiful memories and vivid images of the religious brotherhood that was the hallmark of our Holy City before it succumbed to catastrophe," meaning the creation of Israel in 1948 (see below).

Regardless of his birthplace, both of Arafat's parents were Palestinians. His father was a wealthy businessman who lived in Egypt. His mother came from a leading Palestinian family. She died when he was still a young child, and at age five he was sent to live with relatives in Jerusalem. Four years later Arafat moved back to Cairo to live with an older sister and other siblings. Arafat's father was frequently absent, and when he died in 1952 Arafat did not attend his funeral.

To war against Israel

As a teenager in Cairo Arafat became active in efforts to influence events in Palestine, where Jewish immigrants were organizing what was to become the state of Israel. Arafat helped smuggle arms to Palestinian Arabs who were struggling against similar Jewish organizations, including Jewish terrorist groups.

The British, who governed Palestine as a result of the treaty that ended World War I, tried to prevent the Jews from immigrating in large numbers. However, public opinion in the West (especially in the United States) began to support the Jews as details of the Holocaust (the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II [1939–45]) became more widely known.

Words to Know

Communist:
a person who believes in an economic theory that does not include the concept of private property; instead, a central government owns the goods and means of production.
Fundamentalist:
a person who believes in following a strict set of moral principles.
Guerrilla:
a combat soldier who fights in nontraditional ways, using ambushes and surprise attacks, usually to oppose larger armies.
Intifada:
mass uprising by Palestinians.
Islamist:
someone who believes that Islam should play a central role in the organization of a government.
Nationalist:
a person who believes his or her nation is superior in all ways.

In 1948, three months before Arafat's nineteenth birthday, Israel declared its independence. Almost immediately Arab armies on its borders attacked, while Palestinians inside Israel also fought the newly formed Jewish state. Arafat left the University of Faud I (later Cairo University) to join in the fighting and saw combat in the area of the Gaza Strip (an area in southwestern Palestine).

Yasir Arafat: Timeline of Major Events

1929: Born, either in Egypt or Palestine (sources differ).

1948: Joins Arab attacks on the new independent state of Israel.

1952: Becomes leader of the General Union of Palestinian Students in Egypt.

1956: Fights with Egyptian army in war against Israel, France, and Britain.

1958: Forms al-Fatah, whose goal is to replace Israel with an Arab-ruled Palestine. Fatah operates as both a political and military organization.

1969: Becomes chairman of the PLO, the main organization leading Palestinian opposition to Israel.

1970–71: Leads fighting between PLO and government of Jordan. Forced to move his headquarters to Lebanon, from where PLO launches guerrilla attacks on Israel.

1978: Egypt and Israel agree on a peace treaty, taking away one of Arafat's major allies in the Arab world.

1982: Israel invades Lebanon, forcing Arafat to move his headquarters to Tunis, Tunisia, in North Africa.

1988: PLO declares an independent state of Palestine and gives up violence as a tactic, effectively recognizing the right of Israel to exist.

1990: Supports Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's (1937–) invasion of Kuwait.

1991: With loss of financial aid from wealthy Arab oil-producing states, Arafat opens peace talks overseen by the United States in Madrid, Spain.

1993: Palestinians and Israelis begin secret peace talks in Oslo, Norway. In September 1993 Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995) sign the Oslo Accords in Washington, D.C., giving Arafat control over the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. Arafat shakes hands with Rabin for the first time.

1994: Shares Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres (1923–).

1998–2000: Series of peace negotiations with Israel fail to advance Oslo Accords.

2000: Second Intifada (mass uprising by Palestinians) launched in Israel. The level of violence rises, lowering hopes of a permanent peace accord.

After Israel's armed forces drove back the invading Arabs, Arafat returned to the university as an engineering student. There he founded and led the General Union of Palestinian Students.

Struggle for Palestinian independence

After graduating with a degree in engineering, Arafat took a job in Kuwait for a few years, but he was never far from the Palestinian independence movement. In 1958 he and another Palestinian nationalist, Abu Jihad, founded the first cell of al-Fatah, which was to become a leading Palestinian guerrilla organization. The next year, he began publishing a magazine that supported armed struggle against Israel. In 1964 Arafat left Kuwait and began working full time to replace Israel with an Arab Palestinian state.

Arafat based his operations in the country of Jordan, east of Israel. Jordan held a large population of Palestinians who had left Israel in 1948. From there Arafat and fellow Fatah members launched raids into Israel. From the Israeli standpoint, Fatah was the largest terrorist organization conducting attacks against Israel. From Arafat's viewpoint, he was trying to free Palestine from the Jews who had taken the country from its rightful owners.

Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Yasir Arafat is praised as a "freedom fighter" or "guerrilla" in some places and condemned as a "terrorist" in others. Which word is correct?

"Terrorist" is usually a negative phrase, designed to link the subject with people who routinely use violence to get their way politically. On the other hand, "freedom fighters" implies patriots fighting against an alien power or a harsh government that oppresses people. "Guerrilla" refers to fighters who do not always wear uniforms or follow regular military procedures. French guerrillas became famous for resisting German Nazi rule during World War II (1939–45), for example, and the term is often a form of praise.

Governments attacked by people calling themselves "guerrillas" or "freedom fighters" often describe their attackers as "terrorists." The three terms often are used to describe the same armed men or women; the choice reflects whether the speaker supports or opposes them.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1974, Arafat compared the Palestinian Arabs to black citizens of Africa who were fighting for independence from British and Portuguese colonial rule. He complained that the Jews were really invading Europeans acting on behalf of a British government that wanted to continue controlling the region. He asked for the support of other nations to restore Arab control, including the right of Palestinians to return to the homes from which they fled in 1948.

From the 1960s until the 1980s Arafat made it clear that his goal was to get rid of the government of Israel and replace it with a government of Palestinian Arabs, headed by himself. He described Fatah as a nationalist organization willing to accept people of many religions, including Judaism.

Fatah gains influence

In 1964 the major Arab states founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to coordinate the efforts of various Palestinian groups. Fatah was not a member of the PLO at first. It was, however, the largest Palestinian group making armed raids against Israel.

This changed after the Six Day War (June 1967) between Israel and surrounding Arab states. In less than a week Israel defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and seized control of key territories, including the Golan Heights in Syria and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip in Egypt. The Six Day War was a turning point in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. First, it made military attacks on Israel much less attractive to surrounding Arab countries. Second, the Fatah joined the PLO and became its largest member organization. Third, terrorist attacks became the preferred Palestinian tactic. And fourth, Arafat emerged as the leading figure in the Palestinian fight against Israel.

The terrorist years: 1967–1984

Arafat became chairman of the PLO in 1969. From his new headquarters in Amman, Jordan, Arafat launched dozens of attacks by Fatah against targets in Israel. But Fatah was only one of several terrorist organizations working against Israel. Although Arafat did not personally control every terrorist group, as the public spokesman for the Palestinian cause he was closely tied to the continuing terror campaign.

Arafat built a significant military organization, which began to seem threatening to the government of King Hussein (1935–1999) in Jordan. Frequent clashes between the Jordanian armed forces and the Palestinians became outright war in the autumn of 1970. The immediate cause was a series of plane hijackings, in which Palestinian terrorists took over three

European passenger planes and forced them to land in Jordan. This brought Jordan into conflict with the European countries whose planes had been seized. Two days after the hijacked planes were blown up in Jordan by the hijackers (after the hostages had been set free), the Jordanian army attacked the Palestinian terrorists.

At first the outcome seemed in doubt. But slowly the Jordanians gained the upper hand, and other Arab states arranged a peace negotiation in Cairo. A tense standoff in Jordan lasted until July 1971, when Jordanian forces again attacked Arafat's Palestinians and forced Arafat to leave Jordan for nearby Lebanon.

Throughout the fighting and negotiations, Arafat was highly visible. He also demonstrated a high degree of flexibility in negotiations, a tendency that in later years would annoy diplomats.

Exile in Lebanon: 1973–82

The next significant event in Arafat's struggle to create a Palestinian nation barely involved the Palestinians at all. On October 6, 1973 (the Jewish religious holiday of Yom Kippur), the armies of Egypt and Syria launched surprise attacks on Israel. Their goal was to retake all the territory they had lost in 1967. Although the attacks were successful at first, Israel eventually drove back the Egyptian and Syrian forces and started to advance into the invading countries. Egypt's failure in the socalled Yom Kippur War, in addition to that country's severe economic problems, led President Anwar el-Sadat (1918–1981) to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. The treaty recognized Israel's right to exist and set up diplomatic relations between the two countries. With the treaty, Arafat and the Palestinians lost an important Arab ally.

Allies in the communist camp

In the meantime Arafat was actively organizing raids against Israeli targets and campaigning for international support. Arafat allied himself with the Soviet Union (today, Russia and its neighboring countries) and its communist allies. While this alliance helped Arafat in his campaign against Israel (which the United States, then the firm enemy of the Soviet Union, strongly supported), it eventually proved to be a dead end. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 again took a key source of support from Arafat.

More defeats and a change in strategy

In 1982 Israel invaded southern Lebanon, which was an important launchpad for Palestinian guerrilla attacks. Arafat and the PLO were forced to move their operations to the North African country of Tunisia.

In 1987 Palestinians launched a popular revolt, called the "Intifada," against Israeli rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River. The Intifada included throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, labor strikes, and boycotts of Israeli businesses. It took both Arafat and Israel by surprise; Arafat had to move quickly to gain control over the popular uprising.

The following year, on November 15, 1988, Arafat persuaded the PLO to declare an independent state of Palestine. The declaration said that Palestine "announces itself to be a peace-loving State, in adherence to the principles of peaceful co-existence" and "rejects the threat or use of force, violence and terrorism against its territorial integrity or political independence, as it also rejects their use against territorial integrity of other states"—meaning Israel. The next year Arafat was declared head of the government-in-exile of Palestine.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that sparked the Persian Gulf War turned out to be a major event in Arafat's political life, and the cause of a political misjudgment. Kuwait was strongly supported by its wealthy fellow oil-producing states, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. But Arafat decided to support Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (1937–), and his support for Iraq cost him the backing of the oil producers. After the United States and Britain drove Iraq out of Kuwait, an important source of Arafat's funding dried up. The PLO was forced, partly for financial reasons, to begin peace negotiations with Israel.

Peace talks with Israel and a new role

The first round of peace talks with Israel began with meetings in Madrid, Spain, in 1991, with the assistance of the United States. No progress was made at the talks, but in February 1993 Arafat's representatives began meeting secretly with Israelis in Oslo, Norway. Their goal was to negotiate a peace treaty that would found a new state of Palestine and recognize Israel's right to exist. The following September Arafat came to Washington, D.C., to sign the Oslo Accords with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. For the first time Arafat shook hands with an Israeli leader, giving rise to hopes that the long battle between Palestinians and Israelis might be coming to an end. Two months later Arafat, Rabin, and Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

Arafat's role changed significantly. As the newly recognized Palestinian Authority gained control over a limited territory, Arafat moved from being a guerrilla (or "terrorist") leader to the head of an official government.

At the same time Arafat faced another challenge: the rising influence of Islamic fundamentalists. Islamic fundamentalists are strict Muslims who believe that the moral principles of the religion of Islam should play a central role in the

government. For the Islamists, the fight between Palestinians and Israelis was a religious issue. They did not support any peace negotiations that would leave Israel intact. Islamists had significant financial support, in particular from the Iranian government, which they used to fund terrorism against Israel and to set up charitable groups in nearby countries. The Islamists were a significant challenge to Arafat's control of the Palestinian cause.

As a result, in 1995 Arafat formed a new semi-military organization, the Fatah Tanzim, within the areas controlled by the Palestine Authority (which had its own armed forces). One effect of Tanzim was to provide Arafat with a military force that could act independently of the Palestine Authority without bringing on international criticism of the organization that was intended to become the government of a new Palestinian state. Critics of Arafat saw Tanzim as an example of double-dealing: Arafat was negotiating for peace on one side and building up a new potential terrorist organization on the other.

Moving to the next step

The Oslo Accords gave Arafat a partial victory. On the one hand, he was the elected leader of an organization that governed territory. But on the other hand, the Palestinian Authority was not quite a full-fledged country, and it did not control all the territory Arafat thought it should.

In 1998 a new round of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis started with the goal of a permanent peace agreement, under which Palestinians and Israelis would each recognize the right of the other to live in a secure nation. The exact boundaries of the proposed state of Palestine, and the rights of Arab Palestinians to return to the homes they had abandoned when Israel was founded in 1948, proved to be extremely difficult to agree upon. In December 2001 Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1942–), and U.S. President Bill Clinton met to try to push through a final agreement. In the end, however, Arafat refused the terms Israel offered, and the meetings ended without a final agreement.

In the Middle East, Palestinians living under Israeli rule in territory that Israel had occupied in 1967 launched a second Intifada in September 2000. Attacks against Israeli soldiers resumed with a new tactic: suicide bombing. Increasingly, young Palestinians volunteered to go on suicide missions, carrying explosives strapped to their bodies and setting them off inside Israeli stores, nightclubs, and buses. The new tactic increased the level of suspicion between the two sides, as ordinary Palestinians began to be viewed as potential bomb carriers. This new tactic showed the rising influence of Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which promised an eternity in paradise to the suicide bombers. These groups, which were strongly opposed to any peace agreement with Israel, also challenged Arafat's leadership and raised doubts about the chances of reaching a permanent peace settlement with Israel.

The new wave of terrorism, combined with a new and more conservative Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (1928–), began a new chapter in the long history between Palestinians and Israelis.

For More Information

Books

Gowers, Andrew. Behind the Myth: Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Revolution. New York: Olive Branch Press, 1991.

Hart, Alan. Arafat, A Political Biography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Kiernan, Thomas. Arafat, the Man and the Myth. New York: Norton, 1976.

Mishal, Shaul. The PLO under Arafat: Between Gun and Olive Branch. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.

Reische, Diana L. Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.

Wallach, Janet, and John Wallach. Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.

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Arafat, Yasir

Yasir Arafat

Born October 29, 1929

Cairo, Egypt

Palestine Liberation Organization leader who supported Iraq during the 1991

Persian Gulf War

"We can only be in the camp hostile to Israel and its imperialist allies, who have mobilized all their sophisticated war machine not to come to anybody's aid but to protect their own interests."

Yasir Arafat in Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Yasir Arafat, the longtime leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), is one of the most controversial political figures in the world. Supporters view him as a hero in the struggle to create an independent Palestinian state and a statesman in the efforts to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East. But critics view him as a terrorist who is determined to destroy the Jewish state of Israel.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Arafat and the PLO supported Iraq's actions. As a proponent of Palestinian statehood and a bitter enemy of Israel, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a popular figure among the Palestinians. But Arafat's decision to support Iraq turned out to be a diplomatic disaster for the PLO. It cost the PLO a great deal of world sympathy as well as financial support from the wealthy Arab nations of the Persian Gulf region.

Supports the rights of the Palestinians

Yasir Arafat was born Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini on October 29, 1929, in Cairo, Egypt. He acquired the nickname Yasser, which means "easygoing," while he was in high school. Arafat's parents were Palestinians. They were descended from an Arab people that had lived in the region of the Middle East known as Palestine, located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, since ancient times.

During Arafat's youth, Palestine was controlled by British authorities. The British were supposed to supervise the formation of a Jewish homeland (an area set aside to be a state for a people of a particular racial, cultural, or national origin) in the region. But the British moved slowly due to opposition to the plan from the surrounding Arab nations, which opposed Jewish immigration to the region. Thousands of European Jews made their way to Palestine anyway, but they were met with hostility from Arabs. Before long, the Arabs and Jews were fighting against each other and against the British authorities for control of Palestine.

Arafat spent his youth in Cairo and Jerusalem, a historic city in the heart of Palestine. During his teen years he became involved in a Palestinian nationalist group, which supported the idea of turning Palestine into an Arab state. In 1947, the year that Arafat graduated from high school, the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution that divided Palestine into Arab and Jewish sectors. This plan was put into effect the following year over the strong objections of the surrounding Arab states. Immediately afterward, leaders of the Jewish part of Palestine announced the creation of an independent state called Israel, which would provide a homeland for the world's Jews.

The newly created state of Israel covered two-thirds of Palestine (the remaining one-third consisted of the West Bank in Jordan and the Gaza Strip in Egypt). When Israel took over this territory, about five hundred thousand Palestinians fled and became refugees in neighboring countries. The creation of Israel and displacement of the Palestinians angered many Arabs. In fact, five Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq—went to war against Israel shortly after it was formed. The Arab-Israeli War lasted for nine months before Israel defeated the Arab armies in early 1949.

Becomes chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

Upon the creation of Israel, Arafat went back to Cairo, where he studied engineering at Cairo University. He founded a Palestinian student union that grew rapidly over the next several years. By the late 1950s Arafat's student group became one of the main parts of the Palestinian nationalist movement called Fatah. Fatah activists argued that the Palestinians should try to regain their own country through their own efforts, rather than by working with Arab nations. In 1965 Fatah launched an armed struggle against Israel using tactics of guerilla warfare (an unconventional fighting style that uses methods like ambushes, booby traps, and sniper attacks). In the meantime, the Arab countries of the Middle East created their own group to deal with the question of Palestinian statehood, called the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

In 1967 the tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors once again erupted into war. Israel quickly prevailed in this conflict, which became known as the Six-Day War. Israeli forces crushed the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and took control over the remainder of ancient Palestine as well as large areas of enemy territory. Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the strategic Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. Israel's military occupation of these Arab territories displaced thousands more Palestinians and forced thousands of others to live under Israeli military rule.

The Arab countries' humiliating defeat in the Six-Day War attracted many new followers to the Fatah movement. In 1969 Fatah merged with the PLO and Arafat was elected chairman of the combined organization, which retained the PLO name. The PLO established guerilla camps in Jordan and Lebanon and stepped up its attacks against Israel. One of the most publicized attacks came at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered eleven Israeli athletes.

Moves away from his terrorist image

In 1974 the United States government took an active role in seeking a negotiated settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The PLO participated in the negotiations with the goal of creating an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the areas of historic Palestine that Israel had occupied since 1967. Arafat represented the PLO before the United Nations. In a famous gesture, he showed up carrying symbols of both war and peace. "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun," he explained. "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

The 1974 negotiations broke down when the PLO failed to make it clear that their desired Palestinian state could exist alongside Israel. The PLO had long refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, and its terrorist activities were aimed at destroying the Jewish state. As a result, Israel refused to deal with the PLO. In 1975 the U.S. government proclaimed that it would no longer negotiate with the PLO until the group recognized Israel's right to exist.

The violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis over the occupied territories continued into the 1980s. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in order to destroy PLO guerilla camps there. The Israeli army managed to trap Arafat and his forces in Beirut, but U.S. leaders negotiated to evacuate the PLO from the Lebanese capital. In 1987 Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza launched a series of uprisings against Israeli occupation of these lands. The uprisings, which included mass demonstrations as well as violence against Israeli troops and civilians, became known as the Intifada, which means "throwing off" in Arabic. The Israeli government reacted strongly against the Intifada uprisings. Israeli troops were sent into the occupied territories and authorized to use force to put down the rebellions.

Israel's hard-line response to the Intifada aroused new sympathy for the Palestinians around the world. International news broadcasts showed Palestinian boys being killed for throwing rocks at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Arafat emerged as a statesman during this time by leading the PLO toward a political rather than military solution. In 1988 he stunned many people by accepting a UN resolution that called upon the Palestinians to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist. It appeared likely that the U.S. government would recognize the PLO and allow Arafat to take part in Middle East peace talks.

Supports Iraq during the Persian Gulf War

But the world's view of Arafat and the PLO changed dramatically in 1990. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (see entry) had ordered his military forces to invade the neighboring country of Kuwait. Hussein argued that Iraq had a historical claim to Kuwait's territory. He also wanted to control Kuwait's oil reserves and to gain access to Kuwait's port on the Persian Gulf. Countries around the world condemned the invasion and demanded that Hussein withdraw his troops from Kuwait immediately. Many of these countries began sending military forces to Saudi Arabia as part of a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. Arafat, on the other hand, expressed his support for Iraq's actions. International television news broadcasts showed the PLO leader in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, grinning and embracing Hussein.

A few days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, representatives of the Arab nations held an emergency meeting. They voted 12 to 3 in favor of a resolution condemning Iraq's actions. The twelve countries that voted in favor of the resolution sent military troops and equipment to assist the U.S.-led coalition. The PLO joined Jordan and Libya as the only parts of the Arab world that supported Iraq.

Many observers found it strange that Arafat and the PLO would support Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. After all, Kuwait provided millions of dollars of financial assistance to the PLO and was home to a large population of Palestinians. Others pointed out that Iraq's military takeover and occupation of another country was similar to what Arafat had dedicated his life to fighting against, Israel's takeover and occupation of Palestinian territory.

But Hussein had long been a popular figure among Palestinians. He was a strong supporter of Palestinian statehood and a bitter enemy of Israel. During the months leading up to the Persian Gulf War, Hussein repeatedly tried to link Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait with Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. This stance made Hussein even more popular among the Palestinians.

The final factor in Arafat's decision to support Iraq was that the United States rushed to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Arafat resented the close ties between the United States and Israel, and he felt that American leaders were only trying to protect their oil interests in the Persian Gulf. "We can only be in the camp hostile to Israel and its imperialist allies, who have mobilized all their sophisticated war machine not to come to anybody's aid but to protect their own interests," he told the PLO news agency WAFA, as quoted in Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

After six months of negotiations failed to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, the U.S.-led coalition launched a series of air strikes at Iraq on January 17, 1991. The air strikes lasted for six weeks and destroyed much of Iraq's military capability. On February 24, coalition forces launched a dramatic ground assault to push Hussein's army out of Kuwait. The ground war met with little Iraqi resistance and succeeded in liberating Kuwait after only four days of fighting.

Following Iraq's lopsided defeat in the Persian Gulf War, it became clear that Arafat's decision to support Hussein was a diplomatic disaster for the PLO. Although the decision was popular among Palestinians, it drew a firestorm of criticism from around the world. The wealthy Arab states of the Persian Gulf were furious and withdrew their financial support from the PLO. In addition, thousands of Palestinians who lived and worked in these countries were forced to leave. During the war, when Iraq fired Scud missiles at cities in Israel, international news reports showed Palestinians in the occupied territories cheering and waving Iraqi flags. The Palestinians thus lost any sympathy they had gained during the Intifada. By the time the war ended, many experts claimed that Arafat's support of Iraq had undone many of the PLO's gains of the previous ten years.

Continues efforts to establish a Palestinian State

In the fall of 1991 representatives of Israel and its Arab neighbors gathered for peace talks in Madrid, Spain. Although the PLO was not formally invited to participate, Arafat helped choose the Palestinian delegation that attended the talks. The peace talks failed to produce an agreement, partly because of the uncompromising positions taken by the Israeli government. When Yitzhak Rabin became the new prime minister of Israel the following year, the two sides tried again.

In 1993 Arafat met with Rabin for secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway. They signed the Oslo Accord, which established Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and mapped out future extensions of Palestinian independence. In 1994 Arafat went to Gaza to establish the first Palestinian government in the occupied territories. Later that year he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Arafat reacted with shock and grief when Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995. "I lost my partner," Arafat said in Time magazine. "The man paid with his life for the peace of the brave." The following year, Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority (the government of the occupied territories). When new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed Israeli military forces from the occupied territories, Arafat removed the part of the Palestinian constitution that called for the destruction of Israel. The peace process broke down a short time later, however, when Israel began building Jewish settlements in Jerusalem. The Palestinians responded with a new round of violent attacks.

In 2000 Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Camp David, Maryland. Arafat announced that the PLO planned to declare an independent Palestinian state by the end of the year regardless of the status of the peace talks with Israel. But Arafat postponed the declaration several times in an effort to facilitate negotiations. The peace talks broke down when violent clashes erupted between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in the occupied territories. Although Arafat asked the Palestinians to end violent attacks against Israelis, his words had little effect. In January 2001 Barak suspended the peace talks.

In July 2001 Ariel Sharon became prime minister of Israel. Sharon was an outspoken opponent of Arafat who had called the PLO leader a terrorist and a murderer. Palestinian extremists reacted to the election of Sharon with more attacks, including a series of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. In December 2001 Sharon ordered Israeli troops to place Arafat under house arrest in his presidential compound in Ramallah. In September 2002 the Israeli army placed the compound under military siege (surrounded it and bombarded it with explosives) in retaliation for Palestinian suicide bombings. Israel lifted the siege after ten days in response to international pressure, but it left Arafat's compound in ruins.

By this time Arafat was facing increasing pressure from younger members of the PLO to reform the organization. Israeli officials refused to work with Arafat, and a growing number of Palestinians believed that there could be no further advancement in the peace process as long as Arafat was in charge. His opponents demanded that Arafat appoint a prime minister to govern the West Bank and Gaza. In early 2003 Arafat accepted the choice of Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat remained president, but many of his duties were transferred to Abbas.

Arafat's shaky hold over the PLO helped convince him to remain silent when the United States went to war to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. Once this war ended, U.S. leaders seemed poised to make a major push toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, President George W. Bush (see entry) unveiled a "road map" for peace in the Middle East that included forming an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Some experts believe that American leaders need to settle the issue of Palestinian statehood, which fuels Arab anger toward the United States, in order to improve their chances of establishing a democratic government in Iraq.

But the peace process stalled once again in the fall of 2003. Some frustrated Israeli leaders blamed Arafat for failing to stop a series of violent attacks by Palestinian opposition groups. In fact, the Israeli government threatened to kill or exile Arafat in order to "remove this obstacle" to peace. Although the Bush administration stopped short of supporting Arafat, it did take steps to prevent Israel from harming him.

Where to Learn More

"Arafat Under Siege, Again." Economist, September 28, 2002.

Gaouette, Nicole. "Arafat Deal Paves Way for Peace Plan." Christian Science Monitor, April 25, 2003.

Gowers, Andrew, and Tony Walker. Behind the Myth: Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Revolution. New York: Olive Branch Press, 1992.

Hart, Alan. Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1984.

Kiernan, Thomas. Arafat: The Man and the Myth. New York: Norton, 1976.

MacLeod, Scott. "Interview with Arafat." Time Magazine, November 20, 1995.

Reische, Diana. Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.

Rubenstein, Danny. The Mystery of Arafat. South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 1995.

Stetloff, Rebecca. Arafat. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

"Triumphant from the Rubble." Global Agenda, September 30, 2002.

"Yasser Arafat." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003.

"Yasser Arafat." Newsmakers 1997. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003.

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