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Mohammed Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa Al-Husseini, more commonly known as Yasser Arafat was the fifth of seven children born to a Palestinian textile merchant on August 24, 1929. According to Arafat and other sources, he was born in Jerusalem; however, French biographers, Christophe Boltanski and Jihan El-Tahri revealed in their 1997 book, Les sept vies de Yasser Arafat, that he was actually born in Cairo, Egypt, and that is where his birth certificate was registered. The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs also lists Arafat's birthplace as
Claims that Arafat was related to the Jerusalem Husseini clan through his mother have been disputed by the Palestinian historian Said Aburish. In an unauthorized biography, Aburish claims 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."
Arafat's childhood was divided between
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Arafat left the university and, along with other Palestinians, sought to enter
After the Suez War, 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 in 1957, an organization dedicated to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in place of Israel and Jordan (i.e., historic Palestine).
Backed by Syria, Fatah began carrying out terrorist raids against Israeli targets, starting with an unsuccessful attempt to blow up an Israeli water pump in December 1964. From that point on, Fatah launched dozens of raids against civilian Israeli targets from Jordan, Lebanon and Egyptian-occupied Gaza to avoid provoking reprisals against their Syrian patrons.
When the a coup occurred in Syria in 1966, a new leader was appointed to head Fatah, but he was murdered. Arafat, who took the nom de guerre Abu Ammar, was then arrested by the Syrians, but was subsequently released and fled to
Arafat Takes Over
In 1964, the Arab League created the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a tool in the war against Israel. Arafat's Fatah, which initially viewed the organization as a political opponent, gradually became the organization's dominant faction. Following the humiliating defeat of the Arab forces in the 1967 War; the PLO decided that it could not rely on the Arab states to achieve its objective of destroying Israel. For the next ten years, this goal was the primary focus of the massive terrorist campaign by which the PLO's reputation was formed.
Meanwhile, Fatah established a base in the Jordanian city of
Although its account was dubious, the Arab media glorified the Palestinian stand against the Israelis at Karameh (much to the chagrin of the Jordanians who did most of the fighting), and the effect was to stimulate a wave of volunteers seeking to join the PLO. The Palestinian terrorists escalated their attacks throughout the year, with the casualty toll in 1968 alone reaching 177 Israeli dead and 700 wounded, and 681 Palestinians were killed and wounded in attacks and reprisals.
The "victory" at Karameh allowed Arafat to gain the prestige he needed to exert greater influence over the PLO. The Palestinian National Council met in 1968 and revised the Charter, adopting Fatah's commitment to liberate
Challenging King Hussein
In the late 1960s, tensions between Palestinians and the Jordanian government intensified; heavily armed Palestinian resistance elements (fedayeen) had created a virtual "state within a state" in Jordan, eventually controlling several strategic positions, including the oil refinery near Az Zarq. Jordan considered this a growing threat to its sovereignty and security and attempted to disarm the Palestinian militias. Open fighting erupted in June of 1970.
The final straw for King Hussein occurred when Palestinian terrorists flew three hijacked planes to Jordan and blew them up on September 12, 1970. Four days later, Hussein declared martial law. That same day, Arafat became commander of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), the regular military force of the PLO. In the ensuing civil war, the PLO had the active support of Syria, which invaded Jordan with a force of around 200 tanks. The fighting was mainly between the Jordanian army and the PLA; the U.S. Navy dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the eastern Mediterranean and Israel deployed troops to aid Hussein, if necessary. By September 24, the Jordanian army had defeated the Palestinian forces. Most of the Palestinian leadership, including Arafat (who disguised himself as a Kuwaiti official), fled to Syria, and later Lebanon, where they soon set about undermining the central government of that country.
The change in location did not effect Arafat's commitment to terror. In September 1972, a terrorist arm of Fatah, named Black September for the debacle in Jordan, murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. This attracted international attention for the Palestinian cause, but also condemnation for the tactics of the PLO.
On March 2, 1973, members of the PLO murdered U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan Cleo Noel and chargé d'affaires George Moore. The killers were captured by Sudan and admitted they had received orders directly from the PLO.
Aftermath of the 1973 War
After Arab armies were defeated yet again on the battlefield in the October 1973 War, Arafat decided it was necessary to alter his strategy. The PLO remained committed to the liberation of
Arafat deftly manipulated the organization from one perceived by the (Western) public as barbaric into one slowly being considered a movement with legitimate claims. This new tack was aided by the all-important recognition of the PLO by the United Nations, which gave the organization a foothold into the international body's deliberations. On November 13, 1974, Arafat made an unprecedented appearance before the UN, wearing his military uniform with an empty holster [he was forced to remove his pistol before entering the chamber] around his waist,. and declared, "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
While Arafat adopted an increasingly high profile diplomatic pose, the PLO continued to employ terror against Israel, primarily from its new base in southern Lebanon. Because of
Palestinian fighters also mounted intermittent cross-border attacks against Israel, which provoked repeated Israeli counterattacks in an effort to prevent the Palestinians from threatening Israelis in the north. Finally, in June 1982, Israel mounted a full-scale assault that escalated into the Lebanon War. In September, the
Although a tiny minority at the time advocated negotiations with the PLO, the vast majority of Israelis believed that they could not negotiate with terrorists committed to their destruction. Israeli officials held out hope that a group of moderate Palestinian leaders would emerge in the West Bank and Gaza who would be willing to reach an agreement. The problem was that no such leadership could emerge because of the influence of the PLO. Anyone who cooperated with the Israelis was considered a collaborator and in constant danger of being killed by Arafat's supporters.
Even though the PLO itself remained fractured, Arafat was considered (by virtually everyone but the Israelis and Americans) to be the spokesmen for the Palestinians inside and outside the territories. Most countries understood this and were willing to work with Arafat, and the Europeans, especially, pressured Israel to accept him as a negotiating partner.
For his part, Arafat refused to express any willingness to abandon the goal of destroying Israel or using terror to accomplish his objective. This made it impossible for any mainstream Israeli politician to advocate talks with Arafat (though many leftists met with him and other PLO officials).