Arafat, Yasser

(Abu Ammar)
(1929-2004)
   Born in Cairo of Palestinian parents. While acquiring a degree in civil engineering in Egypt, he became involved in Palestinian politics as president of the General Union of Palestinian Students and as a member of a feday-een guerrilla group. He also received training in sabotage at an Egyptian army college. From 1958 to 1962, he worked in Kuwait but then moved to Beirut and later Damascus, where he helped found the Fatah guerrilla movement. In 1968, he moved his base of operations to Jordan, near the village of Karameh. In February 1969, Fatah secured control of a majority of seats on the Palestinian National Council, and Arafat became chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
   In September 1970, he helped organize a civil war in Jordan, the goal being to oust the regime of King Hussein and replace it with a PLO-dominated government. When this failed, the PLO moved to Lebanon, where it set up a state within a state in Beirut and much of southern Lebanon ("Fatahland") and waged an international campaign of terror against Israel and against Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide. These attacks provoked major Israeli retaliatory operations against PLO bases in Lebanon (e.g., Operation Litani in 1978 and Operation Peace for Galilee [see WAR IN LEBANON (1982)] in 1982). The PLO's presence in Lebanon also disrupted the country's delicate balance of political forces and directly contributed to the outbreak of civil war in 1975.
   After being forced out of Lebanon at the end of Operation Peace for Galilee, Arafat moved his base of operations to Tunis, from where he continued to coordinate the PLO's military campaign against Israel. Arafat ran a parallel political and diplomatic offensive designed to solidify the PLO's status as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" in their struggle against Israel. In February 1985, he signed an accord with Jordan's King Hussein that established a framework for a joint PLO-Jordanian approach for negotiations with Israel. At a November 1988 meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers, Arafat unilaterally declared independent Palestinian statehood and issued ambiguous statements implying the PLO's acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) as the basis for negotiations with Israel; in subsequent days and weeks, Arafat, at prodding from the United States, provided greater clarification on these matters as well as on the PLO's renunciation of terror. Arafat's international credibility was adversely affected by his decision to publicly embrace Saddam Hussein following Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. However, the consummate political survivor, he weathered these political storms and reasserted personal control over the Palestinian movement and over Palestinian diplomacy. He approved the secret discussions with Israel in the spring and summer of 1993 that culminated in the Oslo Accords, and he achieved his long-standing goal of being recognized as an international statesman by representing the Palestinians at the signing of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles on 13 September 1993 and by being awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize (along with Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres). In January 1996, he was elected president of the executive committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
   Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles and the election of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Arafat had to balance a number of competing political pressures. Central to these was the tension inherent in his commitment to help fight terror emanating from areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip being transferred to Palestinian control on the one hand and on the other his desire to co-opt militant secular and religious elements of the Palestinian movement opposed to the Oslo process. The delicacy of this balancing act came to a head with the string of suicide bombings inside Israel committed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad activists in February and March of 1996. In addition, Arafat was subjected to growing internal criticism for his dictatorial leadership methods; the opulent lifestyles of senior members of his cabinet amid the continuing economic squalor in the Palestinian autonomous areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; the inefficiency, duplication of efforts, and corruption rampant in Fatah and the Palestinian governmental institutions; and the human rights abuses and other excesses committed by elements of the multilayered Palestinian security forces.
   In July 2000, Arafat agreed to attend the Camp David summit with U.S. president William J. (Bill) Clinton and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. Despite creative ideas for ending the diplomatic stalemate, the talks failed; contributing to this failure were Arafat's insistence on exclusive Palestinian control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's old city and his demand for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to Israel. In late September 2000, widespread Palestinian violence and terrorism against Israel broke out. It quickly became apparent that the Al-Aksa intifada was a premeditated action by Arafat designed to squeeze additional concessions out of Israel. Arafat rejected Clinton's "bridging proposals" at the Taba talks of January-February 2001.
   With the change of administration in the United States came a significant change in approach toward Arafat. Whereas during his two terms in office, the Clinton administration had sought to move Arafat toward a more accommodative position vis-a-vis Israel through inducements and almost daily contacts, the new administration of George W. Bush took a very different approach, one premised on isolating Arafat and minimalizing his influence over Palestinians.
   In an attempt to temper international criticism as well as growing internal dissent, in March 2003, Arafat appointed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to be prime minister of the PA. However, Abbas resigned on 6 September 2003, frustrated by Arafat's refusal to divest any real power to him. Arafat died on 14 November 2004 in a hospital outside of Paris and was buried in Ramallah.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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