A Survey of Arab-Israeli Relations 1947-2001

By David Lea | Go to book overview

Political Profiles of Prominent Figures in Arab-Israeli Relations

ARAFAT, Yasser (Muhammad Abd ar-Raouf Arafat as Qudwa al-Husseini): Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) 1968-, Palestinian Executive President 1996-; b. 24 August 1929, in Cairo, Egypt; m. Sulia Tawil in 1991, one d. Education: he studied civil engineering at King Fuad University, Cairo. Career: While at university, Arafat joined the League of Palestinian Students, becoming its President in 1952. Following the completion of his studies, and after fighting with the Egyptian army in the conflict with Israel in 1956, he established an engineering business in Kuwait. He remained politically active, however, and in 1957 he formed, together with ‘Abu Jihad’ (Khalil al-Wazir, q.v.), the clandestine Palestinian movement, Fatah. Arafat took the group into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1968, becoming its Chairman. Following the Arab League’s recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974, Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly, warning of violence if proposals for a Palestinian state were not considered. The conflict which ensued throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the problems it caused for Israel’s neighbours forced Arafat to move the organization’s headquarters from Jordan to Lebanon in 1970 and from there to Tunisia following the invasion of Israeli troops and subsequent siege of Beirut in 1982. Discontent at Arafat’s personal style of politics caused two prominent members, ‘Abu Musa’ and ‘Abu Saleh’, to dispute his leadership the following year, although the discord was eventually resolved by the intervention of Saudi Arabian diplomats. Throughout his period as PLO leader Arafat was the target of assassination attempts and suffered from ill health. However, he was able to maintain power, sometimes precariously, whenever threatened. In November 1988 he declared that the PLO would renounce armed insurgency and recognize the state of Israel. While this improved the organization’s relations with the West, Arafat’s subsequent decision to support the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 not only caused relations with the USA and its allies in the ensuing conflict to deteriorate but also deprived the PLO of crucial funding from the Arab petroleum-producing nations. Following the conclusion of the war, Arafat entered into a series of secret negotiations with the Israeli Government in Norway, following which he concluded a ‘Declaration of the Principle of Self-Rule in the Occupied Territories’ (known as the Oslo Accords) in November 1993. For his efforts he received the Nobel Prize for Peace, jointly with the Israeli Prime Minister, Itzhak Rabin (q.v.), and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shimon Peres (q.v.), the following October. Although he had been successful in securing a certain amount of self-rule in the Occupied Territories,

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