Yasser Arafat - People in History

A portrait of Yasser Arafat in Beirut. Editorial credit: Catay / Shutterstock.com.
A portrait of Yasser Arafat in Beirut. Editorial credit: Catay / Shutterstock.com.

Yasser Arafat was a Palestinian political leader and an Arab nationalist who was the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1969 until his demise in 2004. Arafat's leadership marked a riotous era in which conflicts with Israel were prevalent. Arafat was also the founding member of a political party Fatah, which he chaired from 1959 until his death. He was also the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from 1994 to 2004.

5. Early Life

Mohammed Yasser Arafat was born on August 24th, 1929 in Cairo, Egypt to Abdel Raouf Al-Husseini, his father who was a Palestinian from Gaza city and Zahwa Abul Saud, his mother whose family hailed from Jerusalem. Yasser, who was the second youngest child, had six siblings. He and his younger brother Fathi were the only children born in Cairo. Following his mother's death, Arafat together with his younger brother was sent to live in the Moroccan Quarter, in Jerusalem with their mother's family. The two lived in Jerusalem for four years since their father was unable to raise all seven children alone. Arafat joined the University of King Fuad I before graduating in 1950. During the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Arafat left the University for Palestine to join the Arab troops who were fighting against the Israeli forces. However, Arafat fought alongside the Muslim Brotherhood and even took part in combat around the Gaza area but did not join any ranks or the organization. In early 1949, Arafat returned to Cairo since the war was ending for the Israeli, once in Cairo Arafat returned to the University where he studied civil engineering and later graduated with a bachelor's degree.

4. Rise to Power

Arafat, together with some of his associates, established the Fatah, an underground organization in 1958. The primary objective of the organization was to champion for armed resistance against the nation of Israel. The organization was strong enough by the mid-1960s when Arafat exited Kuwait to become a full-time anarchists and stage assaults against Israel. In 1964, the PLO was founded bringing together several groups that were working towards establishing a free Palestinian state. Following the Six-Day War against Israel which saw the defeat of Palestine, Arafat and his Al-Fatah network took control over the PLO becoming its chairman in 1969. The PLO moved its operations to Jordan but was eventually evacuated by King Hussein prompting Arafat to move its operations to Lebanon. The PLO carried out assassinations, bombings, and shootings against Israel, with the famous 1972 killings at the Munich Olympic Games of 11 Israeli athletes. The PLO was once again expelled this time out of Lebanon during the early 1980s. Soon after, Arafat established the Intifada protest movement against the occupation of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The movement's era was marked by constant conflicts, violence, and Israeli retaliation.

3. Contributions

During the UN General Assembly of 1988, Arafat delivered a speech declaring that all the parties involved in the war could live together in peace. As a result of the peace process, the 1993 Oslo Accords approved for elections to take place in the territory, therefore, allowing self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Elections were done, and Arafat was elected as the Palestinian President.

2. Challenges

One of the greatest challenges Arafat faced was the anger that had been building up among the Palestinians who were dissatisfied with the outcome of peace negotiations with Israel. The Palestinians attributed the peace negotiations to have further assisted and expanded Israeli settlements, led unemployment, land confiscation, and Israeli raids. During Arafat's involvement with PLO, Al-Fatah, and Intifada it marked an era of brutal attacks, terror, and killings which portrayed him as a bad leader. Following the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks, Sharon ordered Arafat to be confined to his headquarters in Ramallah by Israel until his death. The move was supported by Bush the American President terming Arafat as an obstacle to peace.

1. Death and Legacy

In 1994, Arafat together with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin from Israel received the Nobel Price for peace, and the three signed the Oslo II negotiations which was a new agreement that paved way for some peace treaties such as the Camp David Accords, the Wye River Memorandum, the road map for peace between Israeli and PLO, and the Hebron Protocol. On October 25th, 2004, Arafat developed flu-like symptoms but his situation only worsened, and he was taken to Paris, France for further treatment. However, on November 11th, 2004, Arafat was pronounced dead after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke.


More in Society