Yasser Arafat

(The neutrality of this article is disputed.)

Yasser Arafat (born August 27, 1929 as Muhammad Abd ar-Rauf al-Qudwah al-Husayni, also known as Abu Ammar), is the leader (from 1993, President (ra'is) from 1996) of the Palestinian Authority, Chairman (from 1969) of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), leader of Fatah, the largest of the factions within the PLO and co-winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.


Arafat was one of seven children born to a merchant. The date and place of Arafat's birth are disputed. Most probably, as indicated by his birth certificate Arafat was born in Cairo, Egypt on August 24, 1929. However, some still support Arafat's claim to have been born in Jerusalem on August 4, 1929.

The discovery of his birth certificate and other documents from Cario University have ended the debate on Arafat's place of birth (even his authorized biographer, Alan Hart, now admits he was born in Cairo).

At birth, his name was Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat Al Qudua Al Husseini. As explained by Said K. Aburish, his Palestinian Arab biographer (in _Arafat: From Defender to Dictator_, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998, p. 7), "Mohammed Abdel Rahman was his first name; Abdel Raouf his father's name; Arafat his grandfather's; Al Qudua is the name of his family; and Al Husseini is the name of the clan to which the Al Quduas belonged."

Claims that he was related to the Jerusalem Husseini clan through his mother (an Abul Saoud), which previously appeared on this page, are shown false given that the Husseini clan designation comes from his father's side. Aburish further explains that Arafat was "unrelated to the real Husseini notables of Jerusalem" (Ibid, p. 9) and explains that "The young Arafat sought to establish his Palestinian credentials and promote his eventual claim to leadership... [and] could not afford to admit any facts which might reduce his Palestinian identity. ...Arafat insistently perpetuated the legend that he had been born in Jerusalem and was related to the important Husseini clan of that city." (Ibid, p. 8)

Arafat lived most of his childhood in Cairo, except for four years (following the death of his mother, between the ages of five and nine) when he lived with his uncle in Jerusalem. He then attended the University of Cairo and graduated as a civil engineer. As a student, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and the Union of Palestinian Students, of which he was president from 1952 to 1956. In 1956 he served in the Egyptian army during the Suez Crisis. At the Palestinian National Congress in Cairo on February 3, 1969 Arafat was appointed Palestinian Liberation Organization leader. Arafat married late in life. His wife gave birth to a single child, a daughter. His wife and daughter are believed to live in Paris, France.

The establishment of Fatah

After Suez, Arafat moved to Kuwait, where he found work as an engineer and eventually set up his own contracting firm. In Kuwait he also helped found Fatah, an organization dedicated to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In 1963 Fatah was employed by Syria as a proxy, to carry out its first military operation - the blowing up of an Israeli water pump in December 1964. The attack was a failure. However, after the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel shifted its attention from the Arab governments to the various Palestinian organizations, one of them was Fatah.

In 1968 Fatah was the major target of an Israeli attack on the Jordanian village of Karameh, in which 150 Palestinian guerrillas and 29 Israeli soldiers were killed, mostly by Jordanian armored forces. Despite the failure on the ground, the battle was considered a strong showing for Fatah because the Israelis eventually withdrew, and did much to raise Arafat's and Fatah's profile. By the late 1960s Fatah had come to dominate the PLO and in 1969 Arafat was named chairman of the PLO, replacing Ahmed Shukairy, originally appointed by the Arab League.

Arafat became commander in chief of the Palestinian Revolutionary Forces two years later and in 1973 the head of the PLO's political department. Following the PLO's ambition to transform Jordan into a Palestinian state (sponsored by the Soviet Union), as well as other reasons too complex to properly discuss here, during this same time, tensions between the Palestinians and Jordanian government greatly increased, leading eventually to the hijacking of four planes by the PLO and ultimately to the Jordanian Civil War of 1970-1971 (in particular, the events of Black September).

In this conflict, the Jordanian monarchy with help from Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States was able to defeat the PLO and Syria, which had invaded Jordan in support of the PLO.


Following this defeat, Arafat relocated the PLO from Jordan to Lebanon. Because of Lebanon's weak central government, the PLO was able to operate virtually as an independent state (called Fatahland by the Israelis). The PLO then began to use this territory to launch artillery strikes and infiltrate terrorists against Israeli civilians - for instance, for the Maalot High School Massacre of 1974.

In September 1972 the Black September "group," which is generally understood to have been an operational cover used by Arafat's Fatah group, kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. A gunfight with the police later left all of the athletes dead. International condemnation of the attack made Arafat publicly disassociate himself from similar acts in the future; in 1974 Arafat ordered the PLO to withdraw from acts of violence outside Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the same year Arafat became the first representative of a nongovernmental organization to address a plenary session of the UN General Assembly.

However, critics claim that Arafat's disconnection from terrorism was illusionary. The Fatah has continued to launch terrorist attacks against Israeli targets; moreover, the late 1970s saw the appearance of numerous leftist Palestinian organizations, aligned with the PLO but supposedly not associated with them, that continued to attack both within Israel and out of it. Israelis claim that Arafat was in ultimate control over these organizations, and hence by no means abandoned terrorism as a means of policy.

In 1974, heads of Arab states declared the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of all Palestinians. The PLO was admitted to full membership in the Arab League in 1976.

The operations of the PLO within Lebanon did not receive much news coverage. It is however certain, that the PLO has played an important part in the tragedy of the Lebanese Civil War, and as Christian Lebanese allege, Arafat and the PLO were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of their number.

This situation pushed Israel to ally with Lebanese Christians, and conduct two major operations into Lebanon, the first being Operation Litani (1978), in which a narrow strip of land (the Security Zone) was captured and jointly held by the IDF and South Lebanon Army (SLA), and the second being Operation Peace for Galilee (1982), in which Israel occupied most of South Lebanon, but retreated back to the Security Zone in 1985. It was during the second of these operations that between 800 and 3,500 Palestinians were killed in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, amplifying the long-lasting bitterness and mistrust between Palestinians and the then-minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon. This would eventually impact the peace process when Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister.


In September 1982, during the Israeli invasion, the Americans had brokered a cease-fire deal in which Arafat and the PLO were allowed to clear Lebanon; Arafat in his leadership eventually arrived in Tunisia, which remained his center of operations up until 1993.

During the 1980s, Arafat received assistance from Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, which allowed him to reconstruct the badly-battered PLO. This came in very handy when the First Intifada began in December, 1987. Within weeks, Arafat was in control of the riots (contrary to his statements, their beginning was spontaneous), and it was mainly because of Fatah forces in the West Bank that the civil unrest has continued for such a long time.

On November 15, 1988, the PLO proclaimed the "State of Palestine," a government-in-exile for the Palestinians, under the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 181 (1947 partition offer). In the December 13, 1988 address, Arafat declared acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 242, promised future recognition of Israel and renounced terrorism. On April 2, 1989, Arafat was elected by the Central Council of the Palestine National Council (the governing body of the PLO) to be the president of this hypothetical Palestinian state.

The December 13 address was dictated by the American administration, which was anxious to begin political negotiations (the Camp David accords set the recognition of Israel as a necessary starting point); nevertheless it also indicated a shift from the PLO's traditional aim - the destruction of Israel (as in the Palestinian National Covenant) - towards the establishment of two separate entities, an Israeli one within the 1967 borders and a Palestinian one in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This in turn allowed the beginning of a political process. In the 1991 Madrid Conference, Israel conducted open negotiations with the PLO for the first time. However, the relationship with Iraq became a major problem for Arafat during the Gulf War of 1991. He was the only Arab party to side with Iraq before the war; consequently, the Americans boycotted him, which impeded the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations already underway.

Palestinian Authority

However, the American disfavor soon passed, leading to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which called for the implementation of Palestinian self rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a five year period. The following year in a controversial decision Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. In 1994, Arafat moved to the Palestinian Authority (PA) - the provisional entity created by the Oslo Accords.

On January 20, 1996, Arafat was elected president of the PA, with an overwhelming 87% majority (the only other candidate being Samiha Khalil). Considering allegations that most of the opposition movements did not participate in the elections, and numerous incompatibilities of the elections with the democratic principle, many have claimed the elections to be fabricated. Independent international observers however reported the elections to have been free and fair. Following international pressure, further elections were announced for January 2002, but were later postponed, citing the tense situation and ongoing Israeli restrictions to freedom and movement as reasons.

Since 1996, Arafat's title as Palestinian Authority leader has used the Arabic word ra'is (head) whose translation into English is a matter of dispute. Israeli documents usually translate it as "chairman", while Palestinian documents translate it as "president". The United States usually follows the Israeli practice, while the United Nations usually follows the Palestinian practice.

In mid-1996, following the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel, Palestinian-Israeli relations grew more hostile. Benjamin Netanyahu tried to obstruct the transition to Palestinian statehood outlined in the Israel-PLO accord. In 1998 U.S. President Bill Clinton intervened, arranging meeting with the two leaders. The resulting Wye River Memorandum of 23 October 1998 detailed the steps to be taken by the Israeli government and PLO to complete the peace process.

Arafat continued negotiations with Netanyahu's successor, Ehud Barak. Due partly to his own politics (Barak was from the leftist Labor Party, whereas Netanyahu was from the rightist Likud Party) and partly due to immense pressure placed by American President Bill Clinton, Barak offered Arafat a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, a return of a limited number of refugees and a compensation for the rest, but failing to address other issues seen as vital to the process. In a widely criticized move, Arafat rejected Barak's offer, failed to make a counter-offer, and, following a highly controversial visit by Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the violence which followed, ordered the so-called Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-present).

Recent news and commentary

Given the extremely dangerous nature and the frequency of assassination attempts (and successes) in the volatile politics of the Middle East and the "terrorism" associated with it, Arafat's personal and political survival is taken by most Western commentators as a sign of his mastery of asymmetric warfare and propaganda, and his skill as a tactician. It is said that he has studied organizations such as the Haganah, Irgun and the Stern Gang. Some commentators also believe his personal survival is largely due to the fear that he could become a martyr for the Palestinian cause if he were to be assassinated or even arrested (both are generally within Israel's capabilities).

His ability to adapt to new tactical and political situations is perhaps exemplified by the rise of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations, fundamentalist groups using Islamic rhetoric to motivate suicide attacks. In the 1990s, these seemed to threaten Arafat's capacity to hold together a secular nationalist organization with a goal of statehood. They appeared to be wholly out of Arafat's influence and control, and were fighting with Fatah, but their activities were tolerated by Arafat, who is alleged to have used their violence as a means of applying pressure on Israel. See PLO and Hamas for statements in that respect. Others view the retributions and restrictions by the IDF on Arafat and his security forces as having prevented him from effectively controlling the region.

However, as of 2002, the Israeli government and many commentators were convinced that the Fatah faction's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades had simply adopted the methods of the fundamentalist groups, and were under Arafat's direct command. What is more, spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad were publicly supporting Arafat. Arafat seemed to be adopting a similar structure to that of the Irish Republican Army and its political wing Sinn Fein, wherein the political arm can claim plausible deniability of actions undertaken by the military arm.

On May 6, 2002, the Israeli government released a report, based in part on documents allegedly captured during the Israel Defense Forces' occupation of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, which shows the connections, and includes copies of papers seemingly signed by Arafat himself authorizing funding for those organizations' terror activities. These documents however drew skepticism from various quarters since the IDF forcefully prevented any independent observers or reporters from observing the operation. [1]

Others simply point to the constraints of the political situation, and argue that Arafat could neither condemn nor constrain the tactics employed; and that any attempt to do so would endanger his rule or his life. Furthermore, refusal to employ terrorism would amount to a de facto surrender to Israel, which has access to weapons that Palestinians so far lack. The use of suicide bombers appears to be a permanent feature of this conflict. The number and intensity of attacks rose sharply in the first months of 2002.

In March 2002, the Arab League made an offer to recognize Israel in exchange for Israeli retreat from all territories captured in the Six-Day War and statehood for Palestine and Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Supporters of this declaration see this as a historic recognition of Israel by the Arab states, while critics of this offer say that it would constitute a heavy blow to Israel's security, while not even guaranteeing Israel the cessation of suicide bombing attacks.

The Arab League offer coincided, however, with yet another upsurge of Palestinian terrorism against Israel (some of which came from Arafat's own Fatah militants), that led to more than 135 Israeli dead. Ariel Sharon has previously pressured Arafat to speak strongly in Arabic against frequent suicide bombings; following the attacks, he declared that Arafat assisted the terrorists and therefore made himself an enemy of Israel and obviously irrelevant to any immediate peace negotiations. The declaration was followed by Israeli entry to the cities of the West Bank, in a program called "Operation Defensive Shield".

There was some speculation that lack of personal trust between the two men played a part in this escalation.

Persistent attempts by the Israeli government to identify another Palestinian leader to deal with had failed; and Arafat was enjoying the support of groups that, given his own history, would normally have been quite wary of dealing with him or of supporting him.

Arafat was finally allowed to leave his compound on May 3, 2002 after intensive negotiations led to a settlement; six terrorists wanted by Israel, who had been holed up with Arafat in his compound, would not be turned over to Israel, but neither would they be held in custody by the Palestinian Authority. Rather, a combination of British and American security personnel would ensure that the wanted men remained imprisoned in Jericho. With that, and a promise that he would issue a call in Arabic to the Palestinians to halt terrorist attacks on Israelis, Arafat was released. He issued such a call on May 8, 2002, but, as was the case before, not even his own Fatah acted accordingly.

Personal wealth

Arafat appears in the business magazine Forbes' annual list of the wealthiest "Kings, Queens and Despots". They estimate his wealth as being "at least $300 million", placing Arafat sixth on the list in 2003. [1] [1] However, Forbes did not indicate its source for this information.

In August 2002, Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Aharon Ze'evi estimated Arafat's personal wealth to be $1.3 billion. [1]

Financial irregularities

The International Monetary Fund conducted an audit of the Palestinian Authority which stated that Arafat diverted $900 million in public funds to a special bank account he controlled. Other estimates range between $1 Billion and $3 Billion. Arafat's wife, Suha, is estimated to receive a stipend of $100,000 each month. According to Forbes, the new PA Finance Minister, Salam Fayyad, is cleaning up PA finances, cutting off much of Arafat's cash flow. [1] [1] [1]

Views of the peace process

Yassir Arafat (in Arabic, PA television, 16 December 2001): Once again, I call for a complete halt to all operations, especially suicidal operations, which we have always condemned. We will punish all those who carry out and mastermind such operations ([1]).

Yasser Arafat stated (February 3, 2002): "The Palestinian vision of peace is an independent and viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. In 1988, the Palestine National Council adopted a historic resolution calling for the implementation of applicable United Nations resolutions, particularly, Resolutions 242 and 338. The Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 percent of historic Palestine with the understanding that we would be allowed to live in freedom on the remaining 22 percent under Israeli occupation since 1967. Our commitment to that two state solution remains unchanged, but unfortunately, also remains unreciprocated."

On June 30th, 2001, Yasser Arafat addressing the Conference of the Council of the Socialist International said "Peace cannot be achieved except after the cessation of military escalation and the economic and financial siege, the demise of occupation, the removal of settlements and ..." [1]

In an interview with Egyptian Orbit TV on April 18, 1998, Arafat was asked about his decision to sign the Oslo accords. He replied: "In 1974, at the Palestinian National Council meeting in Cairo, we passed the decision to establish national Palestinian rule over any part of the land of Palestine which is liberated." In an interview with the Palestinian Arab newspaper Al Ayyam on January 1,1998, when asked his view of the Oslo agreement, Arafat replied: "Since the decision of the Palestinian National Council at its 12th meeting in 1974, the PLO has adopted the political solution of establishing a National Authority over any territory from which the occupation withdraws."

Arafat said on the PA's Voice of Palestine radio station in 1995, "The struggle will continue until all of Palestine is liberated." (Voice of Palestine, November 11, 1995)

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