Yasser Arafat, more correctly called Mohammed Abder Rauf Arafat al-Kudwa al-Husseini, was born in Cairo, August 24, 1929, the day after Arab
s in British
rioted, killing 133 Jews. He was the fifth of seven children born to his parents, who had emigrated from British Mandate Palestine in 1920. Arab-Jewish Tensions had just started to become serious. His mother died when he was five years old, and most agree that he went to Jerusalem at this time, to live with his Uncle for the next 4 years. A recent book by Christophe Boltanski and Jihan El-Tahri, "Les sept vies de Yasser Arafat," say that in fact, he did not leave Egypt
at all to live in Jerusalem
until he was 28 years old. He is not, as he has previously claimed, related to the Mufti
of Jerusalem, or Faisel Husseini.
After his childhood, all agree that he attended Cairo University and got a degree in Civil Engineering. He fought with Egypt in 1948-49 against Israel and having been driven out, he studied briefly in the US, at and until 1957, at the age of 28, he built a successful business in Egypt before leaving to help found Al Fatah in 1958. Fatah is an backronym for Harakat al-Tahrir al Filistini. The phrase means "Palestine Liberation Movement."
In 1964, as Al-Fatah began to become a serious force in the Anti-Israel, Palestinian rights terrorist community, Arafat began to gain control. This was fortuitous timing for him, giving him more political power than he would have once thought possible. The Arabs states, responding to pressure from the Palestinian community, which were still not allowed to live out of refugee camps in most Arab states, formed the PLO. As a result of the ghettoization of the Palestinian groups, they were poor, (especially as all that had money could bribe the government and resettle,) and angry, mostly at their host states. The host states found that they could redirect this anger and blame towards Israel, which also helped the leaders’ public images among their population. All of this led to the increase in momentum of the Palestinian movement, and the rise of the PLO.
The PLO was an organization openly created and sponsored by the Arab states, an amalgamation of all of the concerned citizen groups, refugee communities, and pro-Palestine terrorist groups that existed at the time. There was much jockeying among the various parties, and the guerrilla groups within the PLO came out by far the winners. These groups were led by the most politically savvy of the organizations, and ended up controlling the Executive committee and the Central committee, two of the three branches of the PLO at the time.
The Six Day War pushed all of these organizations to the forefront of the fighting. This was for two reasons; clearly they were the most dedicated, and would be willing to fight, and also on the theory that if they won, the fewer Palestinians around, the better for the surrounding states. Arafat's role here was crucial for both his future and the future of Fatah in the PLO. Being a terrorist organization, its structure was far from rigid, and after Arafat's experience in 1947, he was uninterested in putting himself in danger again. He, and large parts of his organization, either stayed out of the fighting entirely, or stayed on the sidelines, thinking to benefit despite this after an Arab victory.
This, however, was not what occurred. Since most of the other groups were partially or significantly wiped out, Al Fatah was positioned perfectly to take more control of the PLO. In 1969, in the wake of the disaster in 1967, Arafat was able to cement Fatah's new position in the PLO, and personally take over the chairmanship (now converted to a lifelong position.) Fatah now began the conversion into the PLO's military wing, and Arafat, sensing the need for respectability, began to distance himself titularly from his former position in Fatah. Despite this, Jordan was very upset with the PLO, since Arafat was building a fiefdom inside of Jordan fro his own goals. Despite it's small size, the PLO it managed to act as a clearinghouse for terrorist around the world, offering training, and funneling money and weapons from both the USSR and Arab states to Fatah and other Palestinian organizations. Jordan, upset at both Arafat's actions in building the PLO into essentially a separate state within Jordan, and the increasing likelihood of provoking Israel, decided to eject the PLO.
This ejection was crucial, because the PLO was already upset about the fact that they were used as frontline fighters in 1967, and felt that they were only a convenient excuse for the Arab leaders in front of their own ever-volatile populations. After the ejections, the PLO became even more radical, moved to Lebanon, and re-started the terrorist attacks worldwide. Fatah was specifically involved in several incidents, under the Pseudonym of "Black September Organization," which took public blame, in lieu of the PLO, or even Fatah, which wanted to keep it's nose clean. These operations followed their expulsion almost immediately, and began with the assassination the Jordanian Prime Minister, Wash Tel at the end of 1971, right after the PLO's ejection. The group operated with Arafat's knowledge, and at the very least (and most intelligence agencies alleged more-than) tacit permission to operate as a member of the terrorist groups within the PLO.
These operations were conducted with an eye towards plausible deniability, and include the famous 1972 Munich Olympics abduction and murder of Israeli athletes and citizens. Of course, the fact that Jordan expelled the group (with military force) was a significant factor in it's radicalization, as evidenced by the name, referring the fighting between the PLO and Jordan in September, 1970
After this expulsion from both Egypt and Jordan, both of Arafat personally and of the PLO, they moved to Lebanon. Despite an impressive list of failed and/or aborted attacks on Israel during this time, he managed to build a reputation as a freedom fighter for the cause of a Palestinian state. This recognition was part of his genius: even when raids into Israel failed miserably, getting many compatriots killed, the fact that sympathetic news reporters were with him guaranteed that it would be shown as a victory for the brave Palestinians against the Occupying Zionist Entity.
Of course, the press ended up helping Israel make the decision to invade Lebanon to stop the terrorist incursions into Israel. While they did not stop terrorism completely, they did occupy Lebanon and ejected the PLO, and Arafat escaped to Tunisia. After this setback, Arafat, as recognized leader of the PLO decided to re-form the PLO, once again, in Tunisia.
It was during this period of time that Arafat began his conversion from terrorist to statesman. In 1974, he originated the famous "Phased Plan" to destroy Israel. It had three main goals:
- Through the "armed struggle" (i.e., terrorism), to establish an "independent combatant national authority" over any territory that is "liberated" from Israeli rule. (Article 2)
- To continue the struggle against Israel, using the territory of the national authority as a base of operations. (Article 4)
- To provoke an all-out war in which Israel's Arab neighbors destroy it entirely ("liberate all Palestinian territory"). (Article 8)
This transition to a diplomatic and military force to destroy Israel began the path towards Oslo and the Oslo Convention. This conversion continued, when, along with the USSR and most of the third world, the Arab states granted the PLO observer status in the General Assembly. With a new platform, and a majority in the General assembly of the UN to support most of his initiatives, he quickly passed a number of resolutions that support Palestinian imperatives. His major coups include resolution 3379, which equates Zionism, with Racism. In fact, during Arafat's tenure in the UN General assembly, the only resolutions that favored Israel's position over the Palestinians concerned the establishment of an international peacekeeping force in Israel. In addition to this, Arafat helped create the current situation where Israel is ineligible to serve on the Security Council.
As a diplomat, Arafat was able to speak in front of the UN, allowing much better spin control for all of the issues that confronted him, especially enabling him to repair his image as a terrorist. During his first Speech in front of the UN, he proclaimed:
"The difference between the revolutionary and the terrorist lies in the reason for which each fights. Whoever stands by a just cause and fights for liberation from invaders and colonialists cannot be called terrorist. Those who wage war to occupy, colonize and oppress other people are the terrorists....The Palestinian people had to resort to armed struggle when they lost faith in the international community, which ignored their rights, and when it became clear that not one inch of Palestine could be regained through exclusively political means.... "
While he was now becoming a diplomat, he still functioned as the leader of the Palestinian people. Interestingly, in 1978 Arafat met with Nicolae Ceausescu, he was given a piece of advice he tried his best to follow; "In the shadow of your government-in-exile, you can keep as many operational groups as you want, as long as they are not publicly connected with your name. They could mount endless operations all around the world, while your name and your 'government' would remain pristine and unspoiled, ready for negotiations and further recognition." While Arafat was unable to keep himself completely clean, he stayed far enough away to later receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the 1980's, he kept himself rather busy; Not only did he continue to claim he was a freedom fighter, instead of a terrorist, he was determined to carry out acts in his new role. In a series of high profile attacks, Arafat pressured Israel into dealing with him. The decided, to Arafat's dismay, that invading Lebanon was the easiest way to do so. After trapping Arafat and other PLO leaders in Beirut, Arafat once again decided to show his diplomatic side, and came to the table to talk with Israel. With help from the UN, he convinced them, once again, that they could marginalize him merely my shipping him away, (or simply escaped, according to some,) and he made new homes in Tripoli, then Tunisia. From here, he masterminded a number of attacks.
One of these, the murder of three Israeli civilians, which was admitted to by the PLO's own "Force 17," provoked a considerable escalation. Israel sent jets to bomb the PLO headquarters, destroying nearly the entire complex. The PLO responded later in 1985 with the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. In Egyptian waters, the ship was boarded and the hijackers demanded release of 50 "political prisoners" held in Israel. To show their seriousness, they murdered a disabled elderly man on board. During this time, Egypt provided them free passage to Tunisia, later claiming they did not know of the murder. (The Egypt Air plane was forced down by US jets and several of the terrorist were imprisoned, for "life,” but were freed in 1991.) During the hijacking, according to Italian Defence Minister Giovanni Spadolini: "The terrorists were in contact, via the ship's radio telephone, with a PLF Palestine Liberation Front coordinator in Genoa. He, in turn, got in touch with the PLO headquarters in Tunis for final instructions." Abu Abbas, who was tried in absentia in Italy, served as a member of the PLO's Executive Committee, with Arafat, from 1984 to 1991. Abbas was caught in Iraq by US Special Forces, April 15, 2003.
At this point, Arafat began to realize what immense harm these terrorist activities were doing to his image, and began to go back to his diplomatic maneuvering. He made a number of statements that came close to getting himself killed by his supporters, including acknowledging Israel's right to exist. These statements, while dangerous, were counterbalanced by Arafat's eternal policy of only making conciliatory statements in English, so that a large percentage of his population will not understand them, and continuing to rant and rave about the white devil in Arabic.
Arafat continued this lobbying (as well as his other, less legal activities) until 1988, when he had gathered enough support internationally to declare the independence of Palestine, and go back into Israel. As the leader of the Palestinian people, he assumed a new role as their protector in the UN and the first leader to actually talk to the Israeli's to try to win concessions. This policy, while never to his liking, certainly looked good to Israel, which, after decades of hostility from Palestinians, hoped that they might finally be able to come to a reasonable agreement.
Arafat may or may not have realized what an incredibly smart move he was making, but from the start, his secret and not-so-secret meeting with Israeli officials were applauded internationally. Over the next several years, with the policy of trying to trade land for peace, Arafat made real progress, and at times, people on both sides began to see real improvement in quality of life. As the talks progressed, both Arafat and his counterparts in Israel began to make progress.
Never one to tolerate much progress, Arafat decided to support Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. This politically very dangerous move was uncharachteristic for Arafat, normally able to see the tide as it recedes, but he was under significant pressure from the right wing groups in the PLO to stop pandering to the United States so much on the Israel peace accords, so the move is somewhat understandable. The war killed many more Palestinians (dozens) than Israelis (two, both from improper use of gas masks,) and overall did not help Arafat Internationally. The war ended quickly however, and Arafat's faux pas could be mostly ignored by Israel. By 1992, The peace talks were back on track, and quickly lead to the Oslo Accords, and a momentus handshake on the Whitehouse lawn. The terms of the provisional agreement were essentially a series of concessions made by Israel, and Arafat was lauded as a national hero. The next year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Rabin "for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East."
In 1995, then Prime Minister Rabin was killed at a peace rally by a militant (and insane) Israeli right wing "activist." This acted as nearly a death blow for any ability to co-operate, and probably reminded Arafat of his own vulnerability. In the next several months, facing the first election he had to run in, he ruthlessly crushed his opponent's organizations, and ran essentially unopposed for the position of President. As with most fledgling Democratic states, Palestine was unstable, and dependant on Israel (a state of affairs which everone despised.) As the peace slowly broke down, and it became clearer that Oslo did not really stop the terrorism, the right wing came to power in the 1996 elections.
Arafat, in the meantime, changed his postition to president-for-life, and began to try and wring out all of the support an concessions out of Israel that he could. He managed a fair bit, and continued to keep the terrorists more-or-less in line, as he slowly tried to convince Israel to concede everything, and nearly suceeded. He had 97% of the pre-1967 land, half of Jerusalem including most of the old city, and almost every other concession, excepting right of return. Having gotten this far, Arafat turned back and instigated the worst non-war period of violence in Israel's history. His popularity soared breifly during this time, as Israel retaliated against him personally, but as the situation slipped out of his control, he was increasingly ignored by his people and Israel.
Since then, the United States has focused on re-stabilising the situation and marginalizing Arafat in any way possible. He is a mostly powerless figurehead, replaced by Muhammed Abbas (not the terrorist from the Hijacking of the Achille Lauro) and the terrorist orginizations effectively have turned into Organized Crime groups, offering protection, and focused on fighting among themselves more than carrying out terrorist attacks, which have waxed and waned depending on the news over since mid-2001.