YASSER  ARAFAT

He was born on 24 August 1929 in Cairo, Died in 2004. In 1958 Arafat and his friends founded Al-Fatah, an underground network of secret cells, which in 1959 began to publish a magazine advocating armed struggle against Israel. At the end of 1964 Arafat became a full-time revolutionary, organising Fatah raids into Israel from Jordan. In 1968, the Fatah gained control of the PLO and in 1969, Arafat became the Chairman[1] In late 1960s and early 1970, Fatah was fought a civil war with Jordon and was forced out of Jordon. They settled in Lebanon and were major targets of Israel’s 1978 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon.  Later in life, Arafat engaged in series of peace negotiations (Madrid conference of 1991, 1993 Oslo Accord and 2000 Camp David Summit) with Israel to end the decade long conflict.  In 1994 Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize together with Israel’s Prime minister and Foreign Minister.

Traits, Characteristics, leadership skills

  • In public outings, he always wore the black and white checked headdress.
  • He was revered by many Arabs and was seen as a freedom fighter for the Palestinian and in the whole, the Arab cause against Israel.
  • He was a somewhat lenient political leader; he was originally opposed to Israel’s existence, but modified his position in 1988 when he accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242.
  • Arafat was a master tactician – He tolerated the rise of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations, Islamist groups that were much more radical than the Fatah, as a means of applying pressure on Israel.
  • Arafat’s style was often theatrical. In 1953 he sent Egypt’s first post-revolution leader, General Muhammad Neguib, a three word petition: “Don’t forget Palestine.” The words were said to have been written in Arafat’s own blood[2].
  • “One of Arafat’s great skills over the decades was his ability to harness the Palestinian revolution, and he managed to identify the unarmed, stone-throwing challenge to the occupation with his own leadership”.[3]

Famous Quotes

“They want me either as a prisoner, fugitive or dead. I tell them; martyr” March 29 2002

“[I come] bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun – do not let the olive branch fall from my hand”. 1974 – Addressing the UN general Assembly in New York.

“The Arab leader has not been born who would give up Jerusalem” To Bill Clinton at Camp David.

Political Ideology – moderate Islamist nationalist. His allied nations were Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and other Arabic nations in the Middle East as they aided the PLO.

Wartime Accomplishments

  • In 1957 he co-founded the first Fatah-cell in 1957 with Abu-Jihad (Khalil al Wazir), a friend from Gaza, and founded the Fatah Paty in January 1959, though it was not officially founded until January 1, 1965.
  • After the defeat of the PLO by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, Fatah emerged as the most powerful and best organized of the groups making up the PLO. Under Arafat’s rule, the PLO was no longer to be something of a puppet organization of the Arab states, wanting to keep the Palestinians quiet, but an independent nationalist organization, based in Jordan.
  • Arafat’s reputation was enhanced in 1968 with his courageous defence of the Jordanian town of Karameh against superior Israeli forces.[4]
  • Between 1968 and 1971, Arafat developed the PLO into a state within the state of Jordan with its own military forces.[5]
  • By 1974, he was internationally recognized as the key spokesperson for the Palestinian people.
  • After Fatah was expelled from Lebanon by the Israeli forces in 1982, he kept the organization alive by moving its headquarters to Tunis.

War Time Failures

  • King Hussein of Jordan, disturbed by the Fatah’s guerrilla attacks on Israel and hijacking and other violent methods, and threatened by their challenge to his authority, eventually expelled the PLO from his country in 1971. It was also because he feared invasion of Jordan by Israel as much of the Fatah raids on Israel were done from Jordan.
  • To retaliate for Jordan’s expulsion of Palestinian bases in Jordan, Palestinian extremists murdered Jordan PM.  Their group was called Black September. This isolated Palestine in the Arab world and schocased Arafat’s inability to control the extremist factions of Fatah.
  • The PLO’s attacks on Jewish citizens, most notably the killing of 11 Israeli athletes (5 September) at the 1972 Munich Olympics, gave Arafat a worldwide reputation as a terrorist leader and gave massive publicity to the Palestinian problem.
  • After their evacuation from Jordan, Arafat sought to build a similar organization in Lebanon, but this time was driven out by an Israeli military invasion in 1982.

Peacetime Accomplishments

  • In 1988 came a change of policy. In a speech at a special United Nations session held in Geneva, Switzerland, Arafat declared that the PLO renounced terrorism and supported “the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to live in peace and security, including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbours”.
  • He conducted peace negotiations with Israel to bring the conflict to an end thus received the 1/3 of the 1994 Nobel peace Prize. In 1996, he was elected the President of the Palestine Authority.

Peacetime Failures

  • His authority in Palestine was not effective enough to control the more radical Islamist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations, Islamist groups in 1990s. These groups threatened the peace negotiations that were being conducted between Israel and Palestine as they were using suicide bombings to attack Israel.
  • 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, however, Israel ignored this as they thought it was too suspicious.
  • Even though attacks carried out by Palestinian militants killed more than 135 Israeli civilians, Arafat’s regime never gained back the land they lost to Israel after the 6-days war.

WAR IN LEBANON

  • On April 10 1985 – at the worst when 16 year old Muslim girl Sena M’Heidi drove a car full of explosives toward a group of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon and then detonated the charge.
  • She was a suicide bomber that took the life of two other Israeli soldiers in Lebanon.
  • The Palestinian refugees (400,000) were a source of instability in Lebanon as many of them had come as refugees from 1948-49 war and more after the 6 day War – most destabilizing were the PLO forces led by Fatah.
  • They Fatah were expelled from Jordan in 1970 and soon came to Lebanon and have set up many bases in Southern Lebanon, so much so, that area was called ‘Fatahland’. From here, the PLO frequently bombed Israeli villages in Galilee.
  • In 1975, the Lebanese government ordered the retake of control of southern Lebanon by the army – which was composed mainly of Christians.
  • The PLO was assisted by Muslim Lebanese. Soon it became a civil war between Muslims and Christians.
  • In 1978, the PLO suicide squad attacked a bus near Tel Aviv, killing 37 passengers.
  • Three days later, the Israeli troops retaliated by invading Lebanon, seizing ‘Fatahland’. The Fatah were helpless in this large scale invasion thus ‘melted away’[6].

‘Operation Peace for Gallilee’ 1982

  • In June 1982, group of Palestinian extremists attempted to murder the Israeli ambassador in London., this was used the trigger by Israel to launch a full scale invasion of Gallilee,
  • 170,000 troops, 3500 tanks and 600 fighter planes used by Israeli forces were too powerful for the UNEF forces that were posted in Gallilee by the UN[7].
  • Israel was more successful than the previous invasion in 1978 – this time 1000s of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed and 100 000s were homeless.
  • Israelis were so successful – they advanced to the north and surrounded the capital Beirut, cutting off supplies and food.
  • Beirut was bombarded daily from air, land and sea for two months to drive out the PLO who were holding on in Beirut.
  • On one day August 1982, 127 Israeli air raids occurred, which killed more than 20,000 people.
  • This operation was commonly named the ‘battle of Beirut’.

Bibliography

Scott-Bauman,Michael. Crisis in the Middle East: Israel and the Arab states 1945-2007. 1 ed. Access to History. London:

Hodder Education, 2009.


[1] Nobel Peace Prize organization, “Biography of Yasser Arafat”, Nobel peace Prize, http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1994/arafat-bio.html

[2] BBC news: Middle East, “Obituary: Yasser Arafat”, BBC news, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/890161.stm

[3] BBC news: Middle East, “Obituary: Yasser Arafat”, BBC news, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/890161.stm

[4] BBC news: Middle East, “Obituary: Yasser Arafat”, BBC news, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/890161.stm

[5] Nobel Peace Prize organization, “Biography of Yasser Arafat”, Nobel peace Prize, http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1994/arafat-bio.html

[6] Michael Scott- Bauman, Crisis in the Middle East: Israel and the Arab states 1945-2007, London: Hodder Education, 2009. 85.

[7] Michael Scott- Bauman, Crisis in the Middle East: Israel and the Arab states 1945-2007, London: Hodder Education, 2009. 85.

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