Kunya: Abu `Ammar ( ; 'Abū `Ammār)
Portrait of Arafat
20 January 1996 – 11 November 2004
|Prime Minister||Mahmoud Abbas
|Succeeded by||Rawhi Fattuh (interim)
|Born||24 August 1929
|Died||11 November 2004 (aged 75)
Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini (Arabic: محمد عبد الرؤوف عرفات القدوة الحسيني, 24 August 1929 – 11 November 2004), popularly known as Yasser Arafat (ياسر عرفات) or by his kunya Abu Ammar (أبو عمار), was a Palestinian leader and a Laureate of the Nobel Prize. He was Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and leader of the Fatah political party, which he founded in 1959. Arafat spent much of his life fighting against Israel in the name of Palestinian self-determination. Originally opposed to Israel's existence, he modified his position in 1988 when he accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Arafat and his movement operated from several Arab countries. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fatah faced off with Jordan in a brief civil war. Forced out of Jordan and into Lebanon, Arafat and Fatah were major targets of Israel's 1978 and 1982 invasions of that country. He was "revered by many Arabs," and the majority of the Palestinian people, regardless of political ideology or faction, viewed him as a freedom fighter who symbolized their national aspirations. However, he was "reviled by many Israelis" and described "in much of the West as the world's number one terrorist" for the attacks his faction led against civilians.
Later in his career, Arafat engaged in a series of negotiations with the government of Israel to end the decades-long conflict between that country and the PLO. These included the Madrid Conference of 1991, the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2000 Camp David Summit. His political rivals, including Islamists and several PLO leftists, often denounced him for being corrupt or too submissive in his concessions to the Israeli government. In 1994, Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize, together with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for the negotiations at Oslo. During this time, Hamas and other militant organizations rose to power and shook the foundations of the authority that Fatah under Arafat had established in the Palestinian territories.
In late 2004, after effectively being confined within his Ramallah compound for over two years by the Israeli army, Arafat became ill, fell into a coma and died on 11 November 2004 at the age of 75. While the exact cause of his death remains unknown and no autopsy was performed, his doctors spoke of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and cirrhosis.
Yasser Arafat was born in Cairo to Palestinian parents. His father, Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini, was a Palestinian from Gaza; whose mother, Yasser's paternal grandmother, was Egyptian. Arafat's father worked as a textile merchant in Cairo's religiously mixed Sakakini District. Arafat was the second-youngest of seven children and was, along with his younger brother Fathi, the only offspring born in Cairo. His mother, Zahwa Abul Saud, was from a Jerusalem family. She died from a kidney ailment in 1933, when Arafat was four years of age.
Arafat's first visit to Jerusalem came when his father, unable to raise seven children alone, sent him and his brother Fathi to their mother's family in the Moroccan Quarter of the Old City. They lived there with their uncle Salim Abul Saud for four years. In 1937, their father recalled them to be taken care of by their older sister, Inam. Arafat had a deteriorating relationship with his father; when he died in 1952, Arafat did not attend the funeral, nor did he visit his father's grave upon his return to Gaza.
In 1944, Arafat enrolled in the University of King Fuad I and graduated in 1950. He later claimed to have sought a better understanding of Judaism and Zionism by engaging in discussions with Jews and reading publications by Theodor Herzl and other prominent Zionists. At the same time, he became an Arab nationalist and began procuring weapons to be smuggled into the former British Mandate of Palestine, for use by irregulars in the Arab Higher Committee and the Army of the Holy War militias.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Arafat left the University and, along with other Arabs, sought to enter Palestine to join Arab forces fighting against Israeli troops. However, instead of joining the ranks of the Palestinian fedayeen, Arafat fought alongside the Muslim Brotherhood, although he did not join the organization. He took part in combat in the Gaza area (which was the main battleground of Egyptian forces during the conflict). In early 1949, the war was winding down in Israel's favor, and Arafat returned to Cairo from a lack of logistical support.
After returning to the University, Arafat studied civil engineering and served as president of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) from 1952 to 1956. During his first year as president of the union, the University was renamed Cairo University after a coup was carried out by the Free Officers Movement overthrowing King Farouk I. By that time, Arafat had graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and was called to duty to fight with Egyptian forces during the Suez Crisis; however, he never actually fought on the battlefield. Later that year, at a conference in Prague, he donned a solid white keffiyeh–different from the checkered one he adopted later in Kuwait, which was to become his emblem.
Arafat's original full name was Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini. Mohammed Abdel Rahman was his first name; Abdel Raouf was his father's name and Arafat his grandfather's. Al-Qudwa was the name of his tribe and al-Husseini was that of the clan to which the al-Qudwas belonged. It should be noted that Arafat's clan, al-Husseini was based in Gaza and should not be confused with the well-known, but unrelated, al-Husayni clan of Jerusalem.
Since Arafat was raised in Cairo, the tradition of dropping the Mohammed or Ahmad portion of one's first name was common; notable Egyptians such as Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak did so. However, Arafat dropped also the Abdel Rahman and Abdel Raouf parts of his name as well. During the early 1950s, Arafat adopted the name Yasser, and in the early years of Arafat's guerrilla career, he assumed the nom de guerre of Abu Ammar. Both names are related to Ammar ibn Yasir, one of Muhammad's early companions. Although he dropped most of his inherited names, he retained Arafat due to its significance in Islam.
Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leader of the Free Officers Movement, agreed to allow the United Nations Emergency Force to establish itself in the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, causing the expulsion of all guerrilla or "fedayeen" forces there—including Arafat. Arafat originally struggled to obtain a visa to Canada and later Saudi Arabia, but was unsuccessful in both attempts. In 1957, he applied for a visa to Kuwait (at the time a British protectorate) and was approved, based on his work in civil engineering. There he encountered two Palestinian friends: Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) and Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), both official members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Arafat had met Abu Iyad while attending Cairo University and Abu Jihad in Gaza. Both became Arafat's right-hand men in future politics. Abu Iyad traveled with Arafat to Kuwait in late in 1960; Abu Jihad, working as also a teacher, had been living there since 1959. After settling in Kuwait, Abu Iyad helped Arafat obtain a temporary job as a schoolteacher.
As Arafat began to develop friendships with other Palestinian refugees (some of whom he knew also from his Cairo days), he and the others gradually founded the group that became known as Fatah. The exact date for the establishment of Fatah is unknown. However, in 1959, the group's existence was attested in the pages of a Palestinian nationalist magazine, Filastununa Nida al-Hayat (Our Palestine, The Call of Life), which was written and edited by Abu Jihad. FaTaH is a reverse acronym of the Arabic name Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini which translates into "The Palestinian National Liberation Movement". Fatah is also a word that was used in early Islamic times to refer to 'conquest'.
Fatah dedicated itself to the liberation of Palestine by an armed struggle carried out by Palestinians themselves. This differed from other Palestinian political and guerrilla organizations, most of which firmly believed in a united Arab response. Arafat's organization never embraced the ideologies of major Arab national governments of the time, in contrast to other Palestinian factions, which often became satellites of nations such as Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and others.
In accordance with his ideology, Arafat generally refused to accept donations to his organization from major Arab governments, in order to act independently of them. However, he did not want to alienate them, and sought their undivided support by avoiding alliances with groups loyal to other ideologies. He worked hard in Kuwait, however, to establish the groundwork for Fatah's future financial support by enlisting contributions from the many wealthy Palestinians working there and other Gulf States, such as Qatar (where he met Mahmoud Abbas in 1961). These businessmen and oil workers contributed generously to the Fatah organization. Arafat continued this process in other Arab countries such as Libya and Syria.
In 1962, Arafat and his closest companions immigrated to Syria—a country sharing a border with Israel—which had recently seceded from its ephemeral union with Nasser's Egypt. Fatah had approximately three hundred members by this time, but none were fighters. In Syria, however, he managed to recruit members by offering them higher incomes to enable his armed attacks against Israel. Fatah's manpower was incremented further after Arafat decided to offer much higher salaries to members of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), the regular military force of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was created by the Arab League in the summer of 1964. On December 31 of that same year, a squad from al-Assifa, the armed branch of Fatah at the time, attempted to infiltrate Israel, but they were intercepted and detained by Lebanese security forces. Several other raids with Fatah's poorly trained and badly equipped fighters followed this incident. Some were successful, others failed in their missions. Arafat often led these incursions personally.
Arafat and his top aide Abu Jihad, were detained in Syria when a pro-Syrian Palestinian leader, Yusuf Orabi was murdered. Hours before he was killed, Arafat was discussing with him ways to unite their factions and to request Orabi's support for Arafat against his rivals within the Fatah leadership. Shortly after Arafat left the meeting, Orabi was thrown out of the window of a three-story building and Syrian police loyal to Hafez al-Assad (Assad and Orabi were "close friends"), suspected Arafat was involved in the incident. Assad appointed a panel, which found Arafat and Abu Jihad guilty of the murder. Nonetheless, both were pardoned by Syrian President Salah Jadid. The incident, however, brought Assad and Arafat on unpleasant terms, which would show later when Assad became President of Syria.
On November 13, 1966, Israel launched a major raid against the Jordani an-administered West Bank town of as-Samu, in response to a Fatah-implemented roadside bomb attack, which had killed three members of the Israeli security forces near the southern Green Line border. In the resulting skirmish, scores of Jordanian security forces were killed and 125 homes razed. This raid was one of several factors that led to the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Six-Day war began when Israel launched a preemptive air strike against Egypt's air force on June 5, 1967. The war ended in an Arab defeat and Israel's occupation of several Arab territories, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Although Nasser and his Arab allies had been defeated, Arafat and Fatah could claim a victory, in that the majority of Palestinians, who had up to that time tended to align and sympathize with individual Arab governments, now began to agree that a 'Palestinian' solution of their dilemma was indispensable. Many primarily Palestinian political parties, including George Habash's Arab Nationalist Movement, Hajj Amin al-Husseini's Arab Higher Committee, the Islamic Liberation Front and several Syrian-backed groups, virtually crumbled after their sponsor governments' defeat. Barely a week after the defeat, Arafat crossed the Jordan River in disguise and entered the West Bank, where he set up recruitment centers in Hebron, the Jerusalem area and Nablus, and began attracting both fighters and financiers for his cause.
At the same time, Nasser contacted Arafat through Mohammed Heikal (one of Nasser's advisers) and Arafat was declared by Nasser to be the 'leader of the Palestinians'. In December, Ahmad Shukeiri resigned his post as PLO Chairman. Yahya Hammuda took his place and invited Arafat to join the organization. Fatah was allocated 33 of 105 seats of the PLO Executive Committee while 57 seats were left for several other guerrilla factions.
Throughout 1968, Fatah and other Palestinian armed groups were the target of a major Israeli army operation in the Jordanian village of Karameh, where the Fatah headquarters—as well as a mid-sized Palestinian refugee camp—were located. The town's name is the Arabic word for 'dignity', which elevated its symbolic power in the eyes of the Arab people, especially after the Arab defeat in 1967. The operation was in response to attacks, including rockets strikes from Fatah and other Palestinian militias, within the occupied West Bank. According to Said Aburish, the government of Jordan and a number of Fatah commandos informed Arafat that large-scale Israeli military preparations for an attack on the town were underway, prompting fedayeen groups, such as George Habash's newly formed group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Nayef Hawatmeh's breakaway organization the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), to withdraw their forces from the town. Though advised by a pro-Fatah Jordanian divisional commander to withdraw his men and headquarters to nearby hills, Arafat refused, stating, "We want to convince the world that there are those in the Arab world who will not withdraw or flee". Aburish writes that it was on Arafat's orders that Fatah remained, and that the Jordanian Army agreed to back them if heavy fighting ensued.
On the night of 21 March, the IDF attacked Karameh with heavy weaponry, armored vehicles and fighter jets. Fatah held its ground, surprising the Israeli military. As Israel's forces intensified their campaign, the Jordanian Army became involved, causing the Israelis to retreat in order to avoid widening the conflict. By the end of the battle, nearly 150 Fatah gunmen had been killed, as well as twenty Jordanian soldiers and twenty-eight Israeli soldiers. Despite the higher Arab death toll, Fatah considered themselves victorious because of the Israeli army's rapid withdrawal. Arafat himself was on the battlefield, but the details of his involvement are unclear. However, his allies–as well as Israeli intelligence–confirm that he urged his men throughout the battle to hold their ground and continue fighting.
The battle was covered in detail by Time, and Arafat's face appeared on the cover of the 13 December 1968 issue, bringing his image to the world for the first time. Amid the post-war environment, the profiles of Arafat and Fatah were raised by this important turning point, and he came to be regarded as a national hero who dared to confront Israel. With mass applause from the Arab World, financial donations increased significantly, and Fatah's weaponry and equipment improved. The group's numbers swelled as many young Arabs, including thousands of non-Palestinians, joined the ranks of Fatah.
At the Palestinian National Council in Cairo on February 3, 1969, Yahya Hammuda stepped down from his chairmanship of the PLO, and Arafat took over. He became Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian Revolutionary Forces two years later, and in 1973, became the head of the PLO's political department.
In the late 1960s, tensions between Palestinians and the Jordanian government increased greatly; heavily armed Arab resistance elements had created a virtual "state within a state" in Jordan, eventually controlling several strategic positions in that country. After their victory in the Battle of Karameh, Fatah and other Palestinian militias began taking control of civil life in Jordan. They set up roadblocks, publicly humiliated Jordanian police forces, molested women and levied illegal taxes—all of which Arafat either condoned or ignored. King Hussein considered this a growing threat to his kingdom's sovereignty and security, and attempted to disarm the militias. However, in order to avoid a military confrontation with opposition forces, Hussein dismissed several of his anti-PLO cabinet officials, including some of his own family members, and invited Arafat to become Prime Minister of Jordan. Arafat refused, citing his belief in the need for a Palestinian state with Palestinian leadership.
Despite Hussein's intervention, militant actions in Jordan continued. On 15 September 1970, the PFLP hijacked five planes and landed three of them at Dawson's Field, located 30 miles (48 km) east of Amman. After the passengers were moved to other locations, three of the planes were blown up. This tarnished Arafat's image in many western nations, including the United States, who held him responsible for controlling Palestinian factions that belonged to the PLO. Arafat, bowing to pressure from Arab governments, publicly condemned the hijackings and suspended the PFLP from any guerrilla actions for a few weeks. (He had taken the same action after the PFLP attacked Athens Airport.) The Jordanian government moved to regain control over its territory, and the next day, King Hussein declared martial law. On the same day, Arafat became supreme commander of the PLA.
As the conflict raged, other Arab governments attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution. As part of this effort, Gamal Abdel Nasser led the first ever emergency Arab League summit in Cairo on 21 September. Arafat's speech drew sympathy from attending Arab leaders. Other heads of state took sides against Hussein, among them Muammar al-Gaddafi, who mocked him and his schizophrenic father King Talal. The attempt to establish a peace agreement between the two sides failed. Nasser died of a massive heart attack hours after the summit.
By 25 September, the Jordanian army achieved dominance, and two days later Arafat and Hussein agreed to a ceasefire in Amman. The Jordanian army inflicted heavy casualties on the Palestinians—including civilians—who suffered approximately 3,500 fatalities. After repeated violations of the ceasefire from both the PLO and the Jordanian Army, Arafat called for King Hussein to be toppled. Responding to the threat, in June 1971, Hussein ordered his forces to oust all remaining Palestinian fighters in northern Jordan—which they accomplished. Arafat and a number of his forces, including two high-ranking commanders, Abu Iyad and Abu Jihad, were forced into the northern corner of Jordan. They relocated near the town of Jerash, near the border with Syria. With the help of Munib Masri, a pro-Palestinian Jordanian cabinet member, and Fahd al-Khomeimi, the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, Arafat managed to enter Syria with nearly two thousand of his fighters. However, due to the hostility of relations between Arafat and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad (who had previously ousted President Salah Jadid), the Palestinian fighters crossed the border into Lebanon to join PLO forces in that country, where they set up their new headquarters.
Because of Lebanon's weak central government, the PLO was able to operate virtually as an independent state. During this time in the 1970s, numerous leftist PLO groups took up arms against Israel, carrying out attacks against civilians as well as military targets within Israel and outside of it.
Two major incidents occurred in 1972. The Fatah subgroup Black September hijacked a Sabena flight on route to Vienna and forced it to land at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel. The PFLP and the Japanese Red Army carried out a shooting rampage at the same airport, killing twenty-four civilians. Israel later claimed that the assassination of PFLP spokesman Ghassan Kanafani was a response to the PFLP's involvement in masterminding the latter attack. Two days later, various PLO factions retaliated by bombing a bus station, killing eleven civilians.
At the Munich Olympic Games, Black September kidnapped and killed eleven Israeli athletes. A number of sources, including Mohammed Oudeh (Abu Daoud), one of the masterminds of the Munich massacre, and Benny Morris, a prominent Israeli historian, have stated that Black September was an armed branch of Fatah used for paramilitary operations. According to Abu Daoud's 1999 book, "Arafat was briefed on plans for the Munich hostage-taking." The killings were internationally condemned. In 1973–74, Arafat closed Black September down, ordering the PLO to withdraw from acts of violence outside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In 1974, the PNC approved the Ten Point Program (drawn up by Arafat and his advisers), and proposed a compromise with the Israelis. It called for a Palestinian national authority over every part of "liberated Palestinian territory", which refers to areas captured by Arab forces in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (present-day West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip). This caused discontent among several of the PLO factions; the PFLP, DFLP and other parties formed a breakaway organization, the Rejectionist Front.
Israel and the US have alleged also that Arafat was involved in the 1973 Khartoum diplomatic assassinations, in which five diplomats and five others were killed. A 1973 United States Department of State document, declassified in 2006, concluded "The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat." Arafat denied any involvement in the operation and insisted it was carried out independently by the Black September group. Israel claimed that Arafat was in ultimate control over these organizations and therefore had not abandoned terrorism.
Also in 1974, the PLO was declared the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and admitted to full membership of the Arab League at the Rabat Summit. Arafat became the first representative of a non-governmental organization to address a plenary session of the UN General Assembly. Arafat was also the first leader to address the UN while wearing a holster, although it did not contain a gun. In his United Nations address, Arafat condemned Zionism, but said, "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." His speech increased international sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
Although hesitant at first to take sides in the conflict, Arafat and Fatah played an important role in the Lebanese Civil War. Succumbing to pressure from PLO sub-groups such as the PFLP, DFLP and the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), Arafat aligned the PLO with the Communist and Nasserist Lebanese National Movement (LNM). The LNM was led by Kamal Jumblatt, who had a friendly relationship with Arafat and other PLO leaders. Although originally aligned with Fatah, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad feared a loss of influence in Lebanon and switched sides. He sent his army, along with the Syrian-backed Palestinian factions of as-Sa'iqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmad Jibril to fight alongside the radical right-wing Christian forces against the PLO and the LNM. The primary components of the Christian front were the Maronite Phalangists loyal to Bachir Gemayel and the Tigers Militia—which was led by Dany Chamoun, a son of former President Camille Chamoun.
In February 1975, the Tigers shot an important pro-Palestinian Lebanese MP, Ma'arouf Sa'ad, founder of the Popular Nasserite Organization. His death, from his wounds, the following month, and the murder in April of that year of twenty-seven Palestinians and Lebanese travelling on bus from Sabra and Shatila to the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp by Phalangist forces, precipitated the Lebanese Civil War. Arafat was reluctant to respond with force, but many other Fatah and PLO members felt otherwise. For example, the DFLP carried out several attacks against the Lebanese Army. In 1976, an alliance of Christian militias with the backing of the Lebanese and Syrian Army besieged Tel al-Zaatar camp in east Beirut. The PLO and LNM retaliated by attacking the town of Damour, a Phalangist stronghold. Over 330 people were killed and many more wounded. The Tel al-Zaatar camp fell to the Christians after a six-month siege, and a massacre followed in which thousands of Palestinians were killed. Arafat and Abu Jihad blamed themselves for not successfully organizing a rescue effort.
PLO cross-border raids against Israel grew during the late 1970s. One of the most severe—known as the Coastal Road massacre—occurred on 11 March 1978. A force of nearly a dozen Fatah fighters landed their boats near a major coastal road connecting the city of Haifa with Tel Aviv-Yafo. There they hijacked a bus and sprayed gunfire inside and at passing vehicles, killing thirty-seven civilians. In response, the IDF launched Operation Litani three days later, with the goal of taking control of Southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. The IDF achieved this goal, and Arafat withdrew PLO forces north into Beirut.
After Israel withdrew from Lebanon, cross-border hostilities between PLO forces and Israel continued, though from August 1981 to May 1982, the PLO adopted a unilateral policy of refraining from responding to provocations. The Israeli invasion of 1982 was designed, according to some sources, to crush Palestinian national aspirations by uprooting their forces from proximity to the West Bank. Beirut was soon besieged and bombarded by the IDF; Arafat declared the city to be the "Hanoi and Stalingrad of the Israeli army." The Civil War's first phase ended and Arafat—who was commanding Fatah forces at Tel al-Zaatar—narrowly escaped with assistance from Saudi and Kuwaiti diplomats. Towards the end the siege, the US and European governments brokered an agreement guaranteeing safe passage for Arafat and the PLO—guarded by a multinational force of eight hundred US Marines supported by the US Navy—to exile in Tunis.
Arafat returned to Lebanon a year after his eviction from Beirut, this time establishing himself in the northern city of Tripoli. This time Arafat was expelled by a fellow Palestinian working under Hafez al-Assad. Arafat did not return to Lebanon after his second expulsion, though many Fatah fighters did.
Arafat and Fatah's center for operations was based in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, until 1993. In 1985 he narrowly survived an Israeli assassination attempt when Israeli Air Force F-15s bombed his headquarters there as part of Operation Wooden Leg, leaving 73 people dead. Arafat had gone out jogging that morning.
During the 1980s, Arafat received financial assistance from Libya, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which allowed him to reconstruct the badly-battered PLO. This was particularly useful during the First Intifada in December 1987, which began as an uprising of Palestinian youth against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The word Intifada in Arabic is literally translated as "tremor", however, it is generally defined as an uprising or revolt.
The first stage of the Intifada was a response to an incident at the Erez checkpoint where an Israeli military vehicle hit a group of Palestinian laborers, killing four of them. However, within weeks and partly upon consistent requests by Abu Jihad, Arafat attempted to direct the uprising, which lasted until 1992–93. Abu Jihad had previously been assigned the responsibility of the Palestinian territories within the PLO command and according to biographer Said Aburish, had "impressive knowledge of local conditions" in the Israeli-occupied territories. On April 16, 1988, as the Intifada was raging, Abu Jihad was assassinated in his Tunis household, allegedly by an Israeli hit squad. Arafat considered Abu Jihad a PLO counterweight to local Palestinian leadership, and led a funeral procession for him in Damascus.
The most common tactic used by Palestinians during the Intifada was throwing stones at IDF tanks, which became a symbol of the uprising. The local leadership in some West Bank towns commenced non-violent protests against Israeli occupation by engaging in tax resistance and other boycotts. Israel responded by confiscating large sums of money in house-to-house raids. As the Intifada came to a close, new armed Palestinian groups—in particular Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—began targeting Israeli civilians with the new tactic of suicide bombing and internal fighting amongst the Palestinians increased dramatically.
On 15 November 1988, the PLO proclaimed the independent State of Palestine. Though he had frequently been accused of and associated with terrorism, in speeches on 13 and 14 December Arafat accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242, Israel's right "to exist in peace and security" and repudiated 'terrorism in all its forms, including state terrorism'. Arafat's statements were greeted with approval by the US administration, which had long insisted on these statements as a necessary starting point for official discussions between the US and the PLO. These remarks from Arafat indicated a shift away from one of the PLO's primary aims—the destruction of Israel (as entailed in the Palestinian National Covenant)–and toward the establishment of two separate entities: an Israeli state within the 1949 armistice lines, and an Arab state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. On 2 April 1989, Arafat was elected by the Central Council of the Palestine National Council, the governing body of the PLO, to be the president of the proclaimed State of Palestine.
Prior to the Gulf War in 1990–91, when the Intifada's intensity began to wear down, Arafat supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and opposed the US-led coalition attack on Iraq. He made this decision without the consent of other leading members of Fatah and the PLO. Arafat's top aide Abu Iyad vouched to stay neutral and opposed an alliance with Saddam; On 17 January 1991, Abu Iyad was assassinated by the pro-Iraqi Abu Nidal Organization. Arafat's decision also severed relations with Egypt and many of the oil-producing Arab states that supported the US-led coalition. Many in the US also used Arafat's position as a reason to disregard his claims to being a partner for peace. After the end of hostilities, many Arab states that backed the coalition cut off funds to the PLO and began providing financial support for the organization's rival Hamas as well as other Islamist groups.
In 1990, Arafat married Suha Tawil, a Palestinian Christian when he was 61 and Suha, 27. Before their marriage, she was working as a secretary for Arafat in Tunis after her mother introduced her to him in France. Prior to Arafat's marriage, he adopted fifty Palestinian war orphans.
Arafat narrowly escaped death again on 7 April 1992, when an Air Bissau aircraft he was a passenger on crash-landed in the Libyan Desert during a sandstorm. Two pilots and an engineer were killed; Arafat was bruised and shaken.
In the early 1990s, Arafat and leading Fatah officials engaged the Israeli government in a series of secret talks and negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords. The agreement called for the implementation of Palestinian self-rule in portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a five year period, along with an immediate halt to and gradual removal of Israeli settlements in those areas. The accords called for a Palestinian police force to be formed from local recruits and Palestinians abroad, to patrol areas of self-rule. Authority over the various fields of rule, including education and culture, social welfare, direct taxation and tourism, would be transferred to the Palestinian interim government. Both parties agreed also on forming a committee that would establish cooperation and coordination dealing with specific economic sectors, including utilities, industry, trade and communication.
Prior to signing the accords, Arafat—as Chairman of the PLO and its official representative—signed two letters renouncing violence and officially recognizing Israel. In return, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, on behalf of Israel, officially recognized the PLO.
The following year, Arafat and Rabin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Shimon Peres. The Palestinian reaction was mixed. The Rejectionist Front of the PLO allied itself with Islamists in a common opposition against the agreements. It was rejected also by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan as well as by many Palestinian intellectuals and the local leadership of the Palestinian territories. However, the inhabitants of the territories generally accepted the agreements and Arafat's promise for peace and economic well-being.
In accordance with the terms of the Oslo agreement, Arafat was required to implement PLO authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He insisted that financial support was imperative to establishing this authority and needed it to secure the acceptance of the agreements by the Palestinians living in those areas. However, the Gulf Arab States—Arafat's usual source for financial backing—still refused to provide him and the PLO with any major donations because of his sympathy for Iraq during the Gulf War, in 1991. Ahmed Qurei—a key Fatah negotiator during the negotiations in Oslo—openly announced that the PLO was bankrupt.
In 1994, Arafat moved to Gaza City, one of the territories controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)—the provisional entity created by the Oslo Accords. Arafat became the President and Prime Minister of the PNA, the Commander of the PLA and the Speaker of the PLC. In July, after the PNA was declared the official government of the Palestinians, the Basic Laws of the Palestinian National Authority was published, in three different versions by the PLO. Arafat proceeded with creating a structure for the PNA. He established an executive committee or cabinet composed of twenty members. Arafat also took the liberty to replace and assign mayors and city councils for major cities such as Gaza and Nablus. He began subordinating non-governmental organizations that dealt in education, health, and social affairs under his authority by replacing their elected leaders and directors with PNA officials loyal to him. He then appointed himself chairman of the Palestinian financial organization that was created by the World Bank to control most aid money towards helping the new Palestinian entity.
Arafat established a Palestinian police force, named the Preventive Security Service (PSS), that became active on May 13. It was mainly composed of PLA soldiers and foreign Palestinian volunteers. Arafat assigned Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub to head the organization. Amnesty International accused Arafat and the PNA leadership for failing to adequately investigate abuses by the PSS (including torture and unlawful killings) of political opponents and dissidents as well as the arrests of human rights activists.
Throughout November-December 1995, Arafat toured dozens of Palestinian cities and towns that were evacuated by Israeli forces including Jenin, Ramallah, al-Bireh, Nablus, Qalqilyah and Tulkarm, declaring them "liberated". The PNA also gained control of the West Bank's postal service during this period. On 20 January 1996, Arafat was elected president of the PNA, with an overwhelming 88.2% majority (the only other candidate was charity organizer Samiha Khalil). However, because Hamas, the DFLP and other popular opposition movements chose to boycott the presidential elections, the choices were limited. Arafat's landslide victory guaranteed Fatah 51 of the 88 seats in the PLC. After Arafat was elected to the post of President of the PNA, he was often referred to as the Ra'is, (literally president in Arabic), although he spoke of himself as "the general". In 1997, the PLC accused the executive branch of the PNA of financial mismanagement causing the resignation of four members of Arafat's cabinet. Arafat refused to resign his post.
In mid-1996, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister of Israel by a margin of just one percent. Palestinian-Israeli relations grew even more hostile as a result of continued conflict. Despite the Israel-PLO accord, Netanyahu opposed the idea of Palestinian statehood. In 1998, US President Bill Clinton persuaded the two leaders to meet. The resulting Wye River Memorandum detailed the steps to be taken by the Israeli government and PNA to complete the peace process.
Arafat continued negotiations with Netanyahu's successor, Ehud Barak, at the Camp David Summit in July 2000. 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 insistence for compromise by President Clinton, Barak offered Arafat a Palestinian state in 73% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian percentage of sovereignty would extend to 91% (94% excluding Jerusalem) over a ten to twenty-five year period. In exchange for the withheld areas of the West Bank where the main Israeli settlement blocks were situated, Barak offered the equivalent area in the Israeli Negev desert. Also included in the offer were the return of a small number of refugees and compensation for those not allowed to return. Arafat rejected Barak's offer and refused to make an immediate counter-offer. He stated to President Clinton that, "the Arab leader who would surrender Jerusalem is not born yet". The move was criticized even by a member of his own negotiating team and cabinet, Nabil Amr.
Negotiations continued at the Taba summit in January 2001; this time, Ehud Barak pulled out of the talks to campaign in the Israeli elections. In October and December 2001, suicide bombings by Palestinian militant groups increased and Israeli counter strikes intensified, causing the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Following the election of Ariel Sharon in February, the peace process took a steep downfall. Palestinian elections scheduled for January 2002 were postponed—the stated reason was an inability to campaign due to the emergency conditions imposed by the Intifada, as well as IDF incursions and restrictions on freedom of movement in the Palestinian territories. In the same month, Sharon ordered Arafat to be confined to his Mukata'a headquarters in Ramallah, following a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Hadera; US President George W. Bush supported Sharon's action, claiming that Arafat was "an obstacle to the peace".
Arafat's long personal and political survival was taken by most Western commentators as a sign of his mastery of asymmetric warfare and his skill as a tactician, given the extremely dangerous nature of politics of the Middle East and the frequency of assassinations. Some commentators believe his survival was largely due to Israel's fear that he could become a martyr for the Palestinian cause if he were assassinated or even arrested by Israel. Others believe that Israel refrained from taking action against Arafat because it feared Arafat less than Hamas and the other Islamist movements gaining support over Fatah. The complex and fragile web of relations between the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states contributed also to Arafat's longevity as the leader of the Palestinians.
Israel attempted to assassinate Arafat on a number of occasions, but has never used its own agents, preferring instead to "turn" Palestinians close to the intended target, usually using blackmail. According to Alan Hart, the Mossad's specialty is poison. According to Abu Iyad, two attempts were made on Arafat's life by the Israeli Mosaad and the Military Directorate in 1970. In 1976, Abu Sa'ed, a Palestinian traitor-agent who had been working for the Mossad for four years, was enlisted in a plot to put poison pellets that looked like grains of rice in Arafat's food. Abu Iyad explains that Abu Sa'ed confessed after he received the order to go ahead, explaining that he was unable to go through with the plot because, "He was first of all a Palestinian and his conscience wouldn't let him do it." Arafat claimed in a 1988 interview with Time that because of his fear of assassination by the Israelis, he never slept in the same place two nights in a row.
Arafat's ability to adapt to new tactical and political situations was perhaps tested by the rise of the Hamas and PIJ organizations, Islamist groups espousing rejectionist policies with Israel. These groups often bombed non-military targets, such as malls and movie theaters, to increase the psychological damage and civilian casualties. In the 1990s, these groups seemed to threaten Arafat's capacity to hold together a unified nationalist organization with a goal of statehood. They appeared to be out of Arafat's influence and control, and were actively fighting with Fatah. Some allege that activities of these groups were tolerated by Arafat as a means of applying pressure on Israel.
In 2002, the Arab League made an offer to recognize Israel in exchange for an Israeli retreat from all territories captured in the Six-Day War and statehood for the Palestinians governed by Arafat's PNA. Shortly afterward, an attack carried out by Hamas militants killed twenty-nine Israeli civilians celebrating Passover including many senior citizens. In response, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, a major military offensive into major West Bank cities.
Some Israeli government officials opined in 2002 that the armed Fatah sub-group al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades commenced attacks towards Israel in order to compete with Hamas. On May 6, the Israeli government released a report, based in part on documents captured during the Israeli occupation of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, which included copies of papers signed by Arafat authorizing funding for al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades' activities.
Persistent attempts by the Israeli government to identify another Palestinian leader to represent the Palestinian people failed. Arafat was enjoying the support of groups that, given his own history, would normally have been quite wary of dealing with or supporting him. Marwan Barghouti (a leader of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) emerged as a possible replacement during the Second Intifada, but Israel had him arrested for being involved in the killing of twenty-six civilians, and he was sentenced to five life terms.
Arafat was finally allowed to leave his compound on 2 May after intense negotiations led to a settlement: six PFLP militants—including the organization's secretary-general Ahmad Sa'adat—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 PNA. Rather, a combination of British and American security personnel would ensure that the wanted men remained imprisoned in Jericho. (The men were later captured by Israel in an overnight raid on the prison in 2006.) With that, and a promise that he would issue a call to the Palestinians to halt attacks on Israelis, Arafat was released. He issued such a call on May 8, but as with previous attempts, it was largely ignored. In 2003, Arafat ceded his post as Prime Minister to Mahmoud Abbas amid pressures by the US.
In 2004, President Bush dismissed Arafat as a negotiating partner, saying he had "failed as a leader" and accused him of undercutting Abbas when he was prime minister (Abbas resigned the same year he was given the position). Arafat had a mixed relationship at best with the leaders of other Arab nations. His support from Arab leaders tended to increase whenever he was pressured by Israel; for example, when Israel declared in 2003 it had made the decision, in principle, to remove him from the Israeli-controlled West Bank. In an interview with the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera, Arafat responded to Ariel Sharon's suggestion that he be exiled from the Palestinian territories permanently, by stating, "Is it his [Sharon's] homeland or ours? We were planted here before the Prophet Abraham came, but it looks like they [Israelis] don't understand history or geography."
In August 2002, the Israeli Military Intelligence Chief alleged that Arafat's personal wealth was in the range of USD $1.3 billion. In 2003 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conducted an audit of the PNA and stated that Arafat diverted $900 million in public funds to a special bank account controlled by Arafat and the PNA Chief Economic Financial adviser. However, the IMF did not claim that there were any improprieties, and it specifically stated that most of the funds had been used to invest in Palestinian assets, both internally and abroad.
However in 2003, a team of American accountants–hired by Arafat's own finance ministry–began examining Arafat's finances; this team reached a different conclusion. The team claimed that part of the Palestinian leader's wealth was in a secret portfolio worth close to $1 billion, with investments in companies like a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Ramallah, a Tunisian cell phone company and venture capital funds in the US and the Cayman Islands. The head of the investigation stated that "although the money for the portfolio came from public funds like Palestinian taxes, virtually none of it was used for the Palestinian people; it was all controlled by Arafat. And none of these dealings were made public."
Although Arafat lived a modest lifestyle, Dennis Ross, former Middle East negotiator for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, stated that Arafat's "walking-around money" financed a vast patronage system known as neopatrimonialism. According to Salam Fayyad—a former World Bank official whom Arafat appointed Finance Minister of the PNA in 2002—Arafat's commodity monopolies could accurately be seen as gouging his own people, "especially in Gaza which is poorer, which is something that is totally unacceptable and immoral." Fayyad claims that Arafat used $20 million from public funds to pay the leadership of the PNA security forces (the Preventive Security Service) alone.
Fuad Shubaki, former financial aide to Arafat, told the Israeli security service Shin Bet that Arafat used several million dollars of aid money to buy weapons and support militant groups. During Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, the Israel army recovered counterfeit money and documents from Arafat's Ramallah headquarters. The Palestinians claimed that the counterfeit money was confiscated from criminal elements.
First reports of Arafat's treatment by his doctors for what his spokesman said was the "flu" came on 25 October 2004, after he vomited during a meeting. His condition deteriorated in the following days. Following visits by other doctors, including teams from Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt—and agreement by Israel not to block his return—Arafat was taken on a French government jet to the Percy military hospital in Clamart, a suburb of Paris. The official statement announcing his death failed to determine a cause of death, saying only that he had a "mystery blood disorder". On 3 November, he had lapsed into a gradually deepening coma. In the ensuing days, Arafat's health was the subject of some speculation, with suspicion that he was suffering from poisoning or AIDS. Various sources speculated that Arafat was comatose, in a "vegetative state" or dead, however, Palestinian authorities and Arafat's Jordanian doctor denied reports that Arafat was brain dead and had been kept on life support.
A controversy erupted between officials of the PNA and Suha Arafat when officials from the PNA traveled to France to see Yasser Arafat. Suha stated "They are trying to bury Abu Ammar [Arafat] alive". French law forbids physicians from discussing the condition of their patients with anybody with the exception, in case of grave prognosis, of close relatives. Accordingly, all communications concerning Arafat's health had to be authorized by his wife. Palestinian officials expressed regret that the news about Yasser Arafat was "filtered" by her.
The next day, chief surgeon Christian Estripeau of Percy reported that Arafat's condition had worsened, and that he had fallen into a deeper coma. Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, the head of the Islamic court of the Palestinian territories—who held a vigil at Arafat's bedside—visited Arafat and declared that it was out of the question to disconnect him from life support since, according to him, such an action is prohibited in Islam.
Arafat was pronounced dead at 3:30 am UTC on 11 November at the age of 75. The exact cause of his illness is unknown. Tamimi described it as "a very painful scene." When Arafat's death was announced, the Palestinian people went into a state of mourning, with Qur'anic mourning prayers emitted from mosque loudspeakers and tires burning in the street. One obituary at Socialist World said: "Many Palestinians will view the death of Yasser Arafat with a mixture of sadness and a wish that the Palestinian Authority he led, had done much more to end the poverty and oppression that blights their lives".
The Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported alleged leaks of information by unnamed medical sources at Percy hospital who had access to Arafat and his medical file. According to the newspaper, the doctors at Percy hospital suspected, from Arafat's arrival, grave lesions of the liver responsible for an alteration of the composition of the blood; Arafat was therefore placed in a hematology service. Leukemia was "soundly ruled out". According to the same source, the reason why this diagnosis of cirrhosis could not be made available was that, in the mind of the general public, cirrhosis is generally associated with the consequences of alcohol abuse. Even though the diagnosis was not of an alcoholic cirrhosis and Arafat was not known for consuming any alcohol, there was a likelihood of rumors. The source explained that Arafat's living conditions did little to improve the situation. Thus, according to the source, the probable causes of the disease were multiple; Arafat's coma was a consequence of the worsened cirrhosis. The French newspaper Le Monde quoted doctors as saying that he suffered from "an unusual blood disease and a liver problem".
After Arafat's death, the French Ministry of Defense said that Arafat's medical file would be transmitted to only his next of kin. It was determined that Arafat's nephew and PNA envoy to the UN, Nasser al-Qudwa, was a close enough relative, thus working around Suha Arafat's silence on her husband's illness. Nasser al-Qudwa was given a copy of Arafat's 558-page medical file by the French Ministry of Defense.
Bassam Abu Sharif, Arafat's former advisor, claimed that the Mossad poisoned Arafat through his medications. Another "senior Israeli physician" claimed in the article in Haaretz that it was "a classic case of food poisoning", probably caused by a meal eaten four hours before he fell ill that may have contained a toxin such as ricin, rather than a standard bacterial poisoning. However, in the same week as the report in Haaretz, The New York Times published a separate report, also based on access to Arafat's medical records, which claimed that it was highly unlikely that Arafat had food poisoning. Both publications further speculated that the cause of death may have been an infection of an unknown nature or origin. However, rumors of Arafat's poisoning have remained popular around the world, and especially among the Arab populace. Al-Kurdi lamented the fact that Arafat's widow Suha had refused an autopsy, which would have answered many questions regarding cause of death. In 2005, al-Kurdi called for the creation of an independent commission to carry out investigations concerning Arafat's suspicious death, stating, "any doctor would tell you that these are the symptoms of a poisoning".
John Loftus reported on ABC radio that Arafat had died of AIDS. According to Loftus, the CIA had knowledge of his condiiton, and convinced Israel not to assassinate him and wait for his inevitable death of the disease, since the subsequent widespread connotations of the disease with homosexuality would discredit him.
In September 2005, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that French experts could not determine the cause of Arafat's death. The paper quoted an Israeli AIDS expert who claimed that Arafat bore all the symptoms of AIDS, a hypothesis later rejected by The New York Times. Ashraf al-Kurdi, a personal physician of Arafat for twenty years who had also treated the Hashemite kings of Jordan, later declared that nothing in Arafat's medical report mentioned the existence of such an infection.
On 11 November, the French military Honor Guard held a funeral for Arafat at a military airport near Paris. President Jacques Chirac stood alone beside Arafat's body for about ten minutes in a last show of respect for a leader he hailed as, "a man of courage". The next day, Arafat was flown to Egypt's capital Cairo for another brief military funeral there, before his burial in Ramallah, later that day. The funeral was attended by several heads of states, prime ministers and foreign ministers. Egypt's top Muslim cleric Sayed Tantawi led mourning prayers preceding the funeral procession.
Israel refused Arafat's wish to be buried near the al-Aqsa Mosque or anywhere in Jerusalem, citing widespread security concerns. Following his Cairo procession, Arafat was "temporarily" laid to rest within his former headquarters in Ramallah; tens of thousands of Palestinians attended the ceremony. Also attending were at least one Jewish peace advocate and a Christian minister. After Sheikh Taissir Tamimi discovered that Arafat was buried improperly and in a coffin—which is not in accordance with Islamic law—Arafat was reburied on the morning of November 13, at around 3:00 am. On November 10, 2007, prior to the third anniversary of Arafat's death, Abbas unveiled a mausoleum for Arafat near his temporary tomb in commemoration of him.
Upon Arafat's death, PLC Speaker Rawhi Fattouh succeeded Arafat as interim President of the PNA. PLO Secretary-General Mahmoud Abbas was selected Chairman of the PLO, and Farouk Kaddoumi became head of Fatah. The PNA and the leadership of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon declared forty days of mourning for Arafat. Abbas won the January 2005 presidential election by a comfortable margin, solidifying himself as the successor to Arafat as leader of the Palestinians.