Yasser Arafat elected leader of Palestine

Yasser Arafat elected leader of Palestine

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Yasser Arafat is elected president of the Palestinian National Council with 88.1 percent of the popular vote, becoming the first democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people in history.

Arafat, the founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), originally employed guerilla warfare and terrorism against Israel in his struggle for an independent Palestinian state. However, in the late 1980s, he stunned Israel and the world when he began seeking diplomatic solutions in his quest for a Palestinian homeland. Arafat persuaded the PLO to formally acknowledge the right of Israel to coexist with the independent state of Palestine and in 1993 signed the historic Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. One year later, Arafat and Rabin signed a major peace agreement granting Palestine limited self-government in territories occupied by Israel. In 1995, Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for his peace efforts. In the Palestinian people’s first democratic election, in 1996, he won an overwhelming electoral majority, consolidating his rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip areas granted autonomy in the 1995 agreement.

In 2000, though, hopes were dashed that the Oslo Accords might finally bring peace to the troubled region when Arafat, dogged by self-doubt and criticism at home that he was compromising too much, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were unable to negotiate a final peace.

In the aftermath of the collapse of negotiations, with most Palestinians still living in poverty and growing increasingly desperate, a new wave of violence erupted. Israel continued to blame Arafat for the violence–even that which was perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, groups that had probably never been under his control. The collapse of peace talks and the declaration of intifada by the Palestinians led to the election of a hawkish right-wing government in Israel, making peace seem an even more distant prospect.

Though Arafat pledged to join in America’s war on terror after the attacks of September 11, 2001, he was not able to garner favor with U.S. President George W. Bush, who was strongly pro-Israel. In December 2001, after a series of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israel, Bush did nothing to stop Israel as it re-conquered areas of the West Bank and even steamrolled the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters with tanks, effectively imprisoning Arafat within his compound. After Israel dismissed a compromise offer put forth by the Arab League, Palestinian attacks increased, causing Israel to again turn to military intervention in the West Bank. Arafat finally was released from his compound in May 2002, after an agreement was reached which forced him to issue a statement in Arabic instructing his followers to halt attacks on Israel. It was ignored and the violence continued.

In a 2004 interview, George W. Bush rejected Arafat’s status as a legitimate spokesperson for his people, ending hopes for a peace agreement while Arafat was still in power. In late October of that year, reports surfaced that Arafat was seriously ill. He was flown to Paris for treatment, and in early November fell into a coma. He was pronounced dead on November 11. The exact cause of his death is unknown.

Arafat’s funeral was held in Cairo, the city of his birth, and he was buried in his former compound in the West Bank. He left behind a mixed and painful legacy. Mahmoud Abbas became the new chairman of the PLO and was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005.

Yasser Arafat

Freedom fighter or unrepentant terrorist? Corrupt politician or traitor and weak-minded leader? Whatever the perception, Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini, better known as Yasser Arafat, will be remembered as the founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an organization dedicated to the creation of an independent State of Palestine. The early years Little is known about Arafat's childhood other than some conflicting data that suggest he was born in Cairo on August 29, 1929 — or in Jerusalem on August 4 of that year — or was it Gaza? His father was a textile merchant of Egyptian and Palestinian ancestry his mother was from a long-standing Palestinian family in Jerusalem. She died when Arafat was five years old. Young Yasser was shuffled among relatives in Jerusalem for a time, before his father brought him back to Cairo. An older sister was placed in charge of the household. By the age of 17, Arafat began to smuggle guns into Palestine, and by the age of 19, attempted to fight for the Palestinian cause in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. He was turned back by Egyptian border guards because he was not trained militarily. The activist Arafat had studied briefly at the University of Faud I (later Cairo University) before the war. He returned and became involved with politics via the Muslim Brotherhood and the Union of Palestinian Students, of which he served as president from 1952 to 1956. He received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering and joined the Egyptian Army as a second lieutenant during the Suez Crisis. Soon after, Arafat donned what became highly visible trademark, the traditional black-and-white-checked keffiyeh. He moved to Kuwait to practice his trade and then began a contracting business. During that time, Arafat became convinced that the only way to defeat the Israelis and regain control of Palestine, was to fight independently and not expect help from neighboring Arabs. So, in 1959, he and some friends founded al-Fatah, a cluster of secret cells that would carry out attacks on the enemies of Palestine, and began to publish a magazine advocating an armed conflict with Israel. Fatah forged a two-part battle plan: establishment of an independent Palestine and destruction of the state of Israel. By 1964, cells were established in Jordan and had launched raids into Israel. It was at that time that Arafat established the PLO and included other groups of Arabs willing to support his effort. The PLO in action The first target of Fatah, in 1965, was an Israeli water pump station. The attempt to blow it up was unsuccessful. After the Six-Day War, and subsequent defeat of the Arabs in 1967, the underground groups and cells became galvanized in their renewed effort to establish a Palestinian state. In Jordan. With control of the West Bank now belonging to Israel, the PLO had no place to call home. This desperate situation forced a takeover of some Jordanian territory by the fedayeen, the heavily armed resistance unit of the PLO. From here they launched intermittent attacks on Israeli citizens and other targets. Tensions began to fester between the Jordanians and the Palestinians. A major turning point occurred in 1968, when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) invaded Jordan in an attempt to destroy a Fatah cell. About 150 Palestinians and 30 Israelis were killed, but the Palestinians claimed victory based on the IDF's withdrawal from the area. The skirmish was covered by Time magazine, featuring Arafat's image on the cover, which subsequently boosted him to "national hero" status for standing up to the Israelis. Fatah ranks grew as hordes of Palestinian youth joined in the cause. The PLO was expelled by Jordan's King Hussein, however, when open fighting started in June 1970 subsequently the fedayeen highjacked and destroyed three airliners. In Lebanon. Next the PLO tried to gain a foothold in Lebanon and did, due in part to the weak central goverment there. Then they attacked their targets across Israel's northern border. In what was a widely criticized action carried out by an arm of Fatah, 11 Israeli athletes were captured, tortured, and killed at the Munich Olympic Games in September 1972. The militant group "Black September" was responsible for the murders. Arafat performed some major backpeddling in publicly disavowing having anything to do with the killers. During the next few months, Arafat issued orders to stop the attacks on Israelis outside of Palestine because they attracted too much negative international attention. In spite of that, in the mid- to late 1970s, leftist Palestinian groups with ties to Fatah, renewed attacks on civilians. Once again, Arafat denied responsibility. In the same year, Arafat became the first representative of a nongovernmental faction to address the full session of the U.N. General Assembly. He is quoted as saying, "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." The speech proved to be a major step toward peace in the Middle East and was greeted with an increase of international support for the Palestinian cause. A civil war broke out in Lebanon, which put the peace process on hold. Arafat aligned himself and the PLO with Lebanese Muslims, while Syria bolstered the right-wing Christian Philangists. Arafat narrowly escaped harm, thanks to the aid of the Saudis and Kuwaitis. In 1982, Israel invaded Beirut in an attempt to oust the PLO, but Arafat was not among the 20,000 killed. The U.S. and others made a deal for Arafat to be exiled to Tunisia. Arafat in Tunisia Tunis would be Arafat's home base until 1993. As the movement lost some of its momentum, many PLO members returned to their homelands. In 1985, Arafat escaped an Israeli bomb because he was out for a jog. The bombing left 73 dead. In December 1987 came the first Intifada, or spontaneous uprising, against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Within the first few weeks, Arafat was in the middle of things, trying to direct the revolt. By November 1988, the PLO claimed Palestine, as defined by the British Mandate of Palestine, as an independent state and rejected the notion of partition. In December, however, Arafat accepted Resolution 242 from the U.N. Security Council, in which Palestine was to recognize Israel and stop all terrorism. The U.S. then hosted the two adversaries at Camp David to work out the details. The Madrid Conference in 1991 was historic, in that Israel agreed for the first time to negotiate with the PLO. In 1992, Arafat narrowly escaped death once again, when the small aircraft he was flying in crashed in a Libyan sandstorm. The pilot and several passengers were killed. Arafat sustained some broken bones and other assorted injuries. Peace at last? A clandestine series of negotiations between Israel and Arafat in the early 1990s eventually led to the Oslo Accords of 1993. The Palestinians were to phase in self rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over a five-year period. The following year, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Israel's Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, and Arafat of the PLO. Arafat's return to Palestine was met with mixed reviews — some called him a hero, some called him a traitor. Minor military skirmishes continued to disturb the peace process, as did a change in Israel's leadership. In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected the prime minister, and peace relations began to deteriorate. It is said by some that Netanyahu wanted to slow the transition to Palestinian statehood. At that point, U.S. President Bill Clinton offered to mediate the process. The result, in October 1998, was the Wye River Memorandum, which focused on clearing up any misunderstandings over the wording of the original document and what step-by-step action was required and when, by each party. Ehud Barak, Netanyahu's successor, met with Arafat at Camp David for two weeks in 2000, but to no avail, because each leader was intransigent about what he wanted. The summit collapsed when compromise could not be reached. When a second infitada was launched shortly thereafter, the peace process was essentially over. Hamas and Islamic Jihad Throughout Arafat's buildup of a secular branch of freedom fighters, right-wing zealots of the Muslim faith whipped up religious fervor to take the battle for Palestine to the streets. The incidence of suicide bombings spiked in the first few months of 2002. Arafat could only stand by, because he could not condemn the tactics used by the clerics, lest he risk not only his leadership role, but his life as well. In March, the Arab League offered another peace initiative, but Israel rejected it because there was no guarantee the suicide bombings would cease. Predictably, more attacks by Palestinian militants killed more than 135 Israelis, prompting a major miltary offensive into the West Bank, called "Operation Defensive Shield" by the Israelis. The end times for Arafat Arafat was losing his grip among the Palestinian leadership. Marwan Barghouti surfaced as the new leader during the second intifada, but Israel arrested him and sentenced him to four life terms in prison. Arafat's health was becoming an issue, along with his personal finances. Forbes magazine put his personal wealth at $300 million. An independent team of American auditers placed his net worth at about $1 billion. His wife, Suha, who was spirited off to Paris when serious fighting broke out, was given a monthly stipend of $100,000 from the Palestinian Authority budget, controlled by Chairman Arafat. Arafat died in Novenber 2004 from "complications of pneumonia." Cirrhosis of the liver is suspected by many physicians who examined him, but were sworn to secrecy not to divulge information to the media.

Arafat’s Nephew Is Coming for Abbas

Nasser al-Qudwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, poses next to a portrait of Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Nov. 10, 2008. ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images

Eighteen years ago, Mahmoud Abbas, then-Palestinian prime minister, was locked in a power struggle with iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. At stake was control of Palestinian security forces vital to a U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, known as the Roadmap for Mideast Peace. Arafat and Abbas disagreed over which of them would control these forces, and Abbas grew increasingly frustrated with Arafat’s unwillingness to cede him any power. The rivalry negatively affected the—now stagnant—peace process and led to a schism inside the West Bank’s ruling Fatah party.

Fast forward to 2021. Abbas is president of the Palestinian Authority (PA)—a position he has held for more than 15 years after being elected to just a four-year term in 2005—and Palestinians are patiently awaiting a vote that could finally seal his fate. Whether the elections, slated for this May, July, and August, will be allowed to go ahead remains unclear. (Both Israel and the PA hold the cards.) But in the interim, Abbas is facing a challenge from the nephew of the very man he was at loggerheads with two decades ago.

Nasser al-Qudwa is not a household name in the Palestinian territories, but his recent decision to establish a new political movement is turning heads. The National Democratic Assembly, which runs under the slogan, “we want to change, we want to liberate, we want to build,” has attracted Palestinians of all strata in calling for an end to the rampant corruption and cronyism that have historically plagued the PA. The group stresses it is not a faction or party but rather a distinct political movement running an electoral list.

On March 31, the National Democratic Assembly joined forces with jailed militant Marwan Barghouti to run as an independent slate—called “Freedom”—in Palestine’s May 22 legislative elections. Barghouti is a veteran Fatah official who played a leading role in the Second Intifada and is currently serving five life sentences in Israel over charges that he orchestrated deadly attacks on Israelis. In poll after poll conducted in the Palestinian territories, the charismatic Barghouti has consistently shown that—should he run in the PA’s presidential elections—he would win.

Nasser al-Qudwa and Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan Barghouti’s spouse, leave the Palestinian Central Elections Commission office after registering their joint list for the upcoming parliamentary election in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 31. Nasser Nasser/The Associated Press

The merger raised the ire of Abbas, who has ruled by decree and without parliamentary oversight since 2007 and is concerned about where a reshuffled electoral list could land Fatah. In particular, the 85-year-old president wants to avoid a repetition of the party’s painful 2006 loss to Hamas. He believes that can only be accomplished if Fatah runs united and strong.

The “Freedom” slate—headed by Qudwa and Fadwa Barghouti, a lawyer and Marwan Barghouti’s spouse—isn’t the only breakaway Fatah list competing against Abbas’s traditional electoral slate. He will also have to face the “Future” list, which is sponsored by Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief in Gaza who is currently living in exile in the United Arab Emirates. Abbas blames Dahlan for failing to stop Hamas’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip and expelled him from Fatah in 2011 following accusations of embezzlement. Both men have been hurling allegations of corruption at each other ever since.

A poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that the Qudwa and Dahlan lists could pose significant problems for Fatah, particularly in the Gaza Strip. But the emerging struggle is only the latest evidence of broader dysfunction within the party, which has been years in the making.

“Al-Qudwa’s decision to run an independent list is a sign of the intense dissatisfaction within Fatah with the direction of Abbas’s leadership and his authoritarian and increasingly paranoid grip on power,” said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Then-Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qudwa (right) speaks during the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People with Yuri Gourov, U.N. chief of the Division for Palestinian Rights, at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Nov. 29, 2005. STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

Qudwa was born in 1953 in Khan Younis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. He studied dentistry in Cairo and became politically active as head of the General Union of Palestinian Students in Egypt—which has served as a launch pad for many Palestinian politicians who go on to hold important positions in the Palestine Liberation Organization or Fatah.

During his time working in the union, Qudwa became a member of the PLO’s Palestinian National Council (PNC), then the Palestinian parliament-in-exile. He later joined the Palestinian Central Council—the intermediary body between the PNC and the PLO Executive Committee.

Qudwa has been affiliated with Fatah since the late 1960s and rose through the faction’s ranks quietly without stirring any major disagreements with other Fatah leaders. He was elected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the party’s parliament, in 1989 and became a member of the faction’s highest decision-making body—the Central Committee—in 2009, where he remained until his expulsion in March 2021.

Qudwa maintained close personal relations with his uncle Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004, when Qudwa founded and took the reins of the Yasser Arafat Foundation. Arafat had paved the way for Qudwa’s diplomatic work: In 1986, he appointed Qudwa assistant to the permanent representative of the PLO at the United Nations.

Qudwa’s name became synonymous with Palestine’s presence at the U.N. from 1991 until 2005, when he served as permanent envoy and earned a reputation as an ardent believer in the power of international law to bring justice to the Palestinian people. As envoy, Qudwa headed Palestine’s delegation to the International Court of Justice, making the case against Israel’s separation wall. In 2004, the court issued an advisory opinion declaring the wall illegal.

Qudwa is an ardent believer in the power of international law to bring justice to the Palestinian people.

Qudwa served as Palestinian foreign minister for a few months between 2005 and 2006. Those who watched him in action in diplomatic circles have noted his remarkable role in committees tasked with finding solutions to different political crises across the Middle East. Since 2007, Qudwa has held several high-profile diplomatic positions, including as Deputy Joint Special Envoy of the U.N. and the League of Arab States on Syria, assisting then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the exercise of his mandate. He also served as U.N. Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan in the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Now, his focus is on the homefront.

The PA has not held presidential or legislative elections since 2005 and 2006, respectively, and about 40 percent of Palestinians have little faith that fresh elections will end up taking place this spring and summer. But that has not stopped some from supporting Qudwa’s new movement, which is relying heavily on the support of Palestinian nongovernmental organization workers, writers, disgruntled members of Fatah, and other smaller leftist movements as well as independents.

In recent weeks, the National Democratic Assembly has held regular online policy forums over Zoom to discuss its political program, with as many as 300 Palestinians—including myself—in attendance. Qudwa believes the new movement is a byproduct of their collective vision.

“This is the vision of the National Democratic Assembly. I contributed heavily, but it’s not my personal vision,” Qudwa told Foreign Policy. “Anybody could have objected to anything, and we had lengthy discussions within the assembly and the committee that was entrusted with the language and with the texts of the [manifesto].”

An elderly Palestinian man reacts during a rally protesting the confiscation of land for an Israeli settlement south of Hebron in the West Bank, on March 19, before the Israeli army declared the area a closed military zone and ordered demonstrators to leave. HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images

The group’s program is the antithesis of what was espoused by the PA’s current ruling powers. The National Democratic Assembly demands reform of the Palestinian political system, which it hopes to do by fighting corruption, rebuilding the Palestinian territories’ security and administrative apparatus, adhering to the rule of law, and engaging in regular elections. Its long-term goal is to achieve national liberation for Palestinians under a two-state solution along the 1967 armistice line. Here, the National Democratic Assembly—which opposes Israel’s settlement enterprise—is seeking a return to the same peace plan negotiating parameters accepted by the international community for the last 30-odd years.

Beyond the occupation, Qudwa has said the National Democratic Assembly would focus on improving all aspects of Palestinian life, from health care to education and the environment. The movement supports expanding freedoms of speech and dissent for both individuals and media organizations. One of its key priorities is also to promote gender equality, ensuring women have fair access to education and work opportunities.

Qudwa believes a major overhaul of the Palestinian polity is needed, especially as Palestinians grow weary of decades of futile peace talks that have only entrenched Israel’s hold on their land. He regards grassroots efforts to defend Palestinian villages whose lands are at risk of Israeli expropriation as the way forward—and supports a prohibition on Palestinians working in Israeli settlements. At present, there is no official PA policy on the latter issue: The PA has largely turned a blind eye to the tens of thousands of Palestinians working in settlements because it cannot provide a viable alternative form of employment.

This approach, Qudwa said, will align Palestinian national policy more closely with the Geneva Conventions, making it easier to pursue cases against Israel under international law and garner support from other states. “Without challenging settler colonialism, there will be no national independence. … Otherwise, you will just keep going back and forth with futile negotiations,” Qudwa said at a virtual news conference on March 22.

Whether or not this challenge will actually translate to support at the ballot box is not yet certain, but a recent survey shows if elections were held today, a united Fatah list would win 43 percent of the vote. A list headed by Dahlan would win 10 percent, while 7 percent of Palestinians would vote for a Qudwa-led independent list. The two men would siphon votes from Fatah’s official list, giving the party 30 percent of the vote. Now that Barghouti is backing Qudwa’s list, the poll predicts support for the “Freedom” slate will increase to 11 percent, dropping Fatah’s share of the vote to just 28 percent.

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas (right) listens to then-Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qudwa during the second working session of the Summit of South American-Arab Countries, held in Brasília, Brazil, in May 2005. MAURICIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

Qudwa’s attempt to run on an independent slate has come at a high price. What started out as a threat snowballed into his expulsion from Fatah’s Central Committee. He was also stripped of his duties as head of the Yasser Arafat Foundation—in contravention of the internal bylaws of both institutions, observers say.

“The swiftness with which Abbas retaliated against al-Qudwa shows his inability to countenance any form of opposition, dissent, or challenge from within Fatah,” Elgindy said. “The rift within Fatah, along with Abbas’ rigidity, could easily derail—or at least postpone—planned elections and threatens to tear the movement apart.”

In January, as rumors began to emerge that Qudwa would be running an independent platform, Abbas threatened to “shoot” anyone from Fatah who would stray from the official party line. He repeated his threat directly to Qudwa after summoning him to his presidential compound in February, but Qudwa did not backtrack. A series of retaliations ensued: Abbas expelled Qudwa from Fatah’s Central Committee, ceased all funding from the PA and PLO to the Yasser Arafat Foundation, and even took away Qudwa’s security detail and the government-issued car he uses for official business.

Abbas threatened to “shoot” anyone from Fatah who would stray from the official party line.

Qudwa is contesting his expulsion, which he believes was illegal and goes against the internal bylaws of Fatah’s Central Committee. “I was not expelled by Fatah. We haven’t seen the end of this story. I belong to this movement, I’m proud of that, and I will continue to adhere to my Fatah identity and Fatah membership in spite of what happened,” Qudwa told Foreign Policy.

The last straw was dismissing him from the very institution he heads in honor of his uncle and the father of the Palestinian national movement—a step some have called illegal.

“The foundation has a board of trustees that is responsible for choosing the board of directors and its chairman,” said Hani al-Masri, a renowned policy expert and a member of the board of trustees of the Yasser Arafat Foundation. Masri, who is also part of the “Freedom” electoral slate, denounced the decision to dismiss Qudwa as a retaliatory measure.

“What is happening is [part of a series of] arbitrary sanctions due to political differences and competition in the [lead-up to] elections, and it calls into question how far the freedom and integrity of the elections and its results will be respected,” Masri wrote.

As Abbas heads back from Germany for what his office called a “routine” medical checkup, it remains to be seen whether this power struggle within Fatah will push him to cancel the upcoming elections—as he has in the past. A costly political move, Abbas may have to rely on Israel to intervene. So far, Israeli authorities have shut down an election-related event in East Jerusalem and arrested some Hamas members in the West Bank who considered running.

Qudwa believes elections should go ahead no matter what. “Elections can be a tool for change,” he said. “Change can happen either by people going into the streets or democratically through the ballot box.”

Who is Nasser al-Qudwa?

Al-Qudwa, the nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was born in April 1953 in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

He received a degree in dentistry from Cairo University in 1979, and spent the following years (1980-86) as the head of the General Union of Palestine Students in Egypt.

Al-Qudwa has been affiliated with the Fatah movement since 1969, and held many positions within the movement and later, the PA upon its establishment in 1995. He was appointed as a member of the Palestinian National Council in 1975, and in 1989, he was elected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council.

In 2009, he was elected as a member of the Central Committee – the highest leading body of the movement – up until his dismissal in March 2021.

Al-Qudwa represented the PLO as well as Palestine at the UN from 1991 to 2005 and was appointed foreign minister during 2005-06 and the head of the Palestinian delegation before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

He chairs the board of directors of the Yasser Arafat Foundation since 2007.

In 2012, he was appointed as a joint envoy of the UN and the Arab League on the Syrian issue for two years. In 2014, he was appointed as an envoy of the secretary-general of the League of Arab States on Libya until 2015.

Al-Qudwa became the second political leader of Fatah from the Gaza Strip to be dismissed from the party.

Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas’s rival, was suspended from Fatah in 2011 following allegations of carrying out a coup against the Palestinian Authority as well as embezzlement. He was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to two years in prison, and has been banned by Fatah’s Central Committee from running for president.


Moving operations to Jordan, Arafat continued to develop the PLO. Eventually expelled by King Hussein, however, Arafat moved the PLO to Lebanon, and PLO-driven bombings, shootings and assassinations against Israel and its concerns were commonplace events, both locally and regionally, notably with the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. The PLO was driven out of Lebanon in the early 1980s, and Arafat soon after launched the intifada ("tremor") protest movement against Israel occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The intifada was marked by continual violence in the streets with Israeli retaliation.

Yasser Arafat was a criminal and terrorist who happened to have enough charisma to get the United Nations to recognize him as a legitimate leader. That was one of that body's gravest errors. The conflicts that claimed so many lives were often done under his direct orders. He is not great, good, or even mediocre. He was a thug.

No, Yasser Arafat was not the greatest Palestinian leader, because Yasser Arafat did not lead his people into peace. Yasser Arafat wants to stir up trouble with Israel. He could not have been a good Palestinian leader unless he wanted to tell the truth for the Palestinian people about making peace with Israel.

Yasser Arafat's Ambiguous Legacy Of Independence For Palestine

Yasser Arafat image paint (Source: Commons Wikimedia)

JAKARTA - Yasser Arafat, a figure known as the leader and father of the Palestinian Freedom Organization, was born on August 24, 1929. He died tragically, surrounded in sad isolation. The deaths also marked the beginning of the end of a revolution that revived Palestinian national consciousness. A revolution that enlivens the spirit of the Palestinian people to determine their destiny in their own land.

Arafat's struggle to liberate Palestine is quite long. Starting around the 1950s, Arafat founded an organization called Fatah. The organization was founded to liberate Palestine with people's weapons. Under Arafat's leadership, Fatah was unlike any other Arab country.

Fatah has its own ideology, not even receiving assistance from Arab countries. Even so, Arafat received assistance from Kuwait and Qatar. The two countries Arafat considered as a country that sincerely gave him assistance. However, over time Arafat received assistance from two other countries: Sudan and Libya.

Subsequently, Arafat succeeded in uniting various organizations. In 1964, the Palestinian Freedom Organization (PLO) was founded. Fatah, under the PLO, has often launched attacks against Israel. These attacks are often repaid by Israel. However, unfortunately, most of the victims who attacked each other were civilians.

According to the New York Times, the shift between peace talks and acts of violence is a hallmark of Arafat's political life. In his emotional appeal for a Palestinian state at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1974, Arafat wore a sarong while carrying an olive thread.

At the meeting the UN stated that the PLO was the only legitimate representative of Palestine. Some experts see Arafat's action with a sarong and olive as his way of conveying the message: Today I came with olives and weapons of freedom. Don't let the olives fall from this hand.

Yasser Arafat image paint (Source: Commons Wikimedia)

Until 1988, Arafat fervently rejected Israeli recognition, insisting on armed struggle. Peace path diplomacy is not in Arafat's dictionary. He chose diplomacy after his embrace with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf war in 1991. His movement was politically humiliated. He also went bankrupt financially. Without power and influence, Arafat seemed to change course. He slowly entered the diplomatic route.

In September 1993, Arafat gained worldwide recognition by signing a limited peace treaty with Israel. The Arafat Declaration carries a number of principles that essentially provide mutual recognition and unravel the transition to Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. The two regions have been under Israeli control since they won the Arab-Israeli war in 1867.

The culmination of secret negotiations in Oslo, the agreement was brokered by President Bill Clinton and closed with a stunning handshake between Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the lawn of the White House. The peace led Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. The following year they signed a new agreement, Oslo II, which laid the groundwork for a series of peace agreements between the PLO and Israel.

The following years Yasser Arafat with Benjamin Netanyahu and Nabil Shaath in 1997 (Source: Commons Wikimedia)

Regardless of the best agreement and plan between the two parties, peace is always difficult to live by. Israel began major construction on the area claimed according to the decision in the Oslo Accords. Relations heated up when Yasser Arafat was re-elected as leader of the PLO in 1996 and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister of Israel. Netanyahu rejects Palestinian status and continues to build settlements. Israel also sees Arafat as not giving complete trust to Palestinian security groups. That is what keeps both parties moving away from the word peace.

In 2000, Arafat decided to reject the settlement offered under the Oslo agreement proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Israel admits that their proposal fulfills most of its previous demands. However, Arafat felt that the previous Palestinian demands had not been fulfilled. Arafat was later seen as failing to respond with his own proposal, which effectively weakened the US-brokered talks. Ehud Barak's offer continued to shift and ultimately failed to meet Palestinian needs.

After the failure, Ariel Sharon, then an opposition in Israel, visited the Jerusalem square outside the Al Aqsa Mosque in late September. Palestinians erupted in violent protests, sparking what has come to be called the second intifada. The action killed more than 900 Israelis and nearly three thousand Palestinians. The PLO became vulnerable to armed conflict.

In 2004, Arafat died. Before falling ill, Arafat was surrounded while in Ramallah. The siege was carried out by Israel under the command of Ariel Sharon and supported by US President George W. Bush. However, because his health continued to deteriorate, Israel allowed Arafat to seek treatment in France. His health continued to decline until he fell into a coma and on November 11, 2004, Arafat was pronounced dead.

Arafat left an ambiguous legacy. On the other hand, Arafat succeeded in creating a PLO-led movement and awareness of the Palestinian people for independence. Arafat also made the world aware of Palestine as a different entity. But on the other hand, Arafat left an authoritarian impression and only prioritized warfare. This is evidenced by the outbreak of various wars such as the Lebanon and Jordan wars. Arafat in his name as the struggle of the PLO for Palestinian freedom against Israel. However, until this moment, Palestine continues to lose its homeland.

Yasser Arafat, 1929-2004: Father of the Palestinian Nation

Even to his many friends and acquaintances Yasser Arafat remained largely an enigma. There is no doubt that he was one of the world's best-known leaders: During his decades of political activity he was seen regularly on the newscasts of television stations around the world, and hardly a week went by without an Arafat interview in a major newspaper.

The reports and descriptions about him were always contradictory. Everything possible was said: he was unreliable and a liar, an incorrigible terrorist who could not be trusted in the least - and, at the same time, the "father of the Palestinian nation," the historic leader who led his people from nowhere to the center of the Middle Eastern political stage and into negotiations with Israel on the partition of the country.

Did he bring his people successes, or did he inflict disasters on them? Short, tending to plumpness, with fleshy lips his mannerisms theatrical to the point of being ludicrous, his language meager. Could no better leader be found among the upper echelons of the Palestinian people?

Arafat's enigma begins with his birthplace. According to his official biography (as published by the Palestinian information departments), he was born in the Old City of Jerusalem. He himself said as much on many occasions, but sometimes also said he was born in Gaza. In other interviews he was evasive, saying his father was from Gaza and his mother from Jerusalem.

The truth is that Yasser Arafat was born in Cairo, Egypt. At least one of his biographers found his Egyptian birth certificate. So why lie about the trivial question of his birthplace? When the Egyptian birth certificate was shown to him, he said it was a forgery. He was brought up in Cairo, by parents who emigrated from Palestine, but he insisted that he was born in Jerusalem and that his father forged his birth certificate so that Yasser Arafat could attend Egyptian schools for free.

He was born in August 1929, two years after his father moved to Cairo in the hope of obtaining by inheritance a plot of land that in the past had belonged to one of the women in the family who was from the city.

Arafat's effort to move his place of birth to Jerusalem was apparently prompted by his notion that a national leader who purported to be "Mister Palestine" could not conceivably have been born outside the Palestinian homeland. It was far more fitting for the father of the Palestinian nation to have been born in Jerusalem, near Al-Aqsa and the Western Wall, where his mother's family (Abu Saud) lived and where the three-year-old Arafat was sent after his mother, Zahawa, died in Cairo of a kidney ailment. He lived for a time with his mother's family and in the house of his father's family, al-Kidwa, in Gaza. He returned to Cairo after his father remarried. In any event, Arafat attended elementary and high school in Cairo - as is very evident from the Egyptian accent that he never managed to get rid of to his dying day.

Young Palestinians who joined Fatah during the period of the 1967 Six-Day War and first met Arafat were in fact taken by surprise: How was it that the leader of the Palestinian revolution talks like an Egyptian?

The formative experience of Arafat's adolescent years in Cairo was his meetings with the group of Palestinian exiles who lived in the Egyptian capital at the end of the Second World War. They were headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who spent the war years in Berlin, and Sheikh Hassan Abu-Saud, a relative of Arafat's (on his mother's side).

Arafat, then 17, formed especially close ties with Abd al-Kader al-Husseini, one of the leading Palestinian organizers of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 against the Jewish community and the British Mandate government in Palestine. Arafat spent a lot of time playing and reading verses of the Koran with Faisal Husseini, the son of Abd al-Kader, who would later become the PLO leader of Orient House in Jerusalem.

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Arafat began engineering studies in the University of Cairo (then Fuad University) in the winter of 1948. The great shock of his first year as a student was the report, which reached him in mid-April, about the death of Abd al-Kader al-Husseini, who was killed in the battle for the Kastel outside Jerusalem.

Together with other Palestinian students Arafat decided to leave the university and join the Egyptian volunteers who were mobilizing for the war in Palestine. Arafat took part in the battle for Kfar Darom, in Gaza, but two weeks later the Egyptian army invaded Israel and ordered all the irregular forces to stop fighting so as not to disrupt the army's operations. Arafat later described how his rifle, his personal weapon, was taken from him by the Egyptians.

Other young Palestinians who underwent similar experiences at the time afterward related how the Arab armies that entered the country disarmed them and prevented them from fighting. Arafat and his friends were witnesses to competition and quarreling among the Arab statesmen and commanding officers, and to the defeat they suffered in the war, which ended with the signing of the armistice agreements in 1949.

From the point of view of many Palestinians, including Arafat, the Arab rulers not only failed in the war, but compounded the affront by not allowing the Palestinians to see action. For years afterward, whenever he was asked what caused the Palestinian tragedy, Arafat replied: The Arabs betrayed us.

It was against this background that Arafat (like many other Palestinians of his generation) formulated a worldview after 1948 that the Arab regimes could not be relied upon and that their entire purpose was to exploit the Palestinian problem for their own profit.

Arafat determined to be loyal to the Palestinian people, and to them alone. During his political career, which began in 1950 as chairman of the Palestinian Students Organization at the University of Cairo and continued with the establishment of the Fatah organization in Kuwait in 1959, Arafat was embroiled in dozens of disputes and quarrels with almost every Arab leader.

He was imprisoned in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria and pursued relentlessly in Jordan - always as a result of his suspiciousness and mistrust of the Arab rulers, who in his view were ready to sell out the Palestinians and sacrifice their interests at the drop of a hat in order to benefit themselves. Arafat even found himself in a serious crisis of relations with the authorities in Egypt, the Arab country in which he was born and which he felt closest to, after President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel. There were even some who said, with a little exaggeration, that Arafat's loyalty to the Palestinian cause had turned him anti-Arab.

The Fatah organization founded by Arafat and his colleagues carried out its first operation against an Israeli target - a section of the National Water Carrier in Galilee - on January 1, 1965.

Some two and a half years later, following the defeat of the Arab states in the Six-Day War, the Palestinian organizations expanded their attacks on Israel, and the name of Yasser Arafat, head of Fatah, became known to the public at large in the spring of 1968.

Arafat gained fame at the time primarily because he had an amazing penchant for publicity and public relations. He succeeded, with the help of tricks, exaggerations and lies, in making the headlines of the world's media.

A typical example was his description of the battle of Karameh, in the eastern Jordan Rift Valley, then in Jordan, in which Arafat took part in March 1968. The battle raged a few hours, after which the Israeli troops were forced to retreat, leaving several tanks and military equipment in Jordanian territory.

Arafat described the outcome of the battle as a tremendous military triumph that was as great as the Soviet victory over the Germans at Stalingrad. He appeared as the commander of a mysterious guerrilla force and disseminated tales of heroic exploits, while his forces held parades to show off the equipment left behind by the Israelis.

Such stories had a massive impact, thanks to the yearning of the Arab masses for a bit of comfort after the humiliating defeat of 1967. Arab and Palestinian public opinion almost begged for stories of heroism - and Arafat supplied them in abundance.

In the years that followed, Arafat did not balk at spreading rumors and groundless stories as part of the Palestinian propaganda campaign. For example, he claimed that some of the suicide bombings that took place during the peace process, and afterward during the intifada that began in 2000, were perpetrated under the aegis of Israeli intelligence. He also accused the Israel Defense Forces of using enriched uranium in its ammunition.

As the years passed, Arafat managed to survive in a way that sometimes beggared belief. He survived assassination attempts and turned out to be a leader whom no political foe could subdue.

He was saved in the fighting during the civil war in Jordan, on "Black September" in 1970, and emerged unscathed from the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut in the Lebanon War. He later overcame, albeit with difficulty, rebels in his Fatah movement who tried to liquidate him in 1983 with the aid of the Syrian regime.

In retrospect, Arafat's greatest success lay in leading his nation to recognize Israel at the meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algeria, in 1988 and into a peace process that eventuated in the establishment of national Palestinian rule in part of the homeland.

In 1994, Arafat returned to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in order to found the autonomous regime enshrined in the Oslo accord of September 1993. He was also elected president of the Palestinian Authority in free and democratic elections in 1996.

It was in creating the institutions of Palestinian government in the homeland that Arafat apparently made the greatest mistakes of his life. The governmental departments were inefficient, wasteful and corrupt. Arafat continued his behavior from the underground period, by completely neglecting the handling of law and order. He introduced bribery in the system and cultivated thugs and corrupt individuals as confidants. Within a short time the Palestinian public was fed up with the national rule it had waited for so long.

True, in his ascetic way of life Arafat succeeded in preserving the image of a leader who has no private life and whose whole world is the Palestinian national vision. But the resentment and hostility of the masses to all the bureaucratic apparatuses around him grew apace.

Arafat's methods of rule, his juggling of promises, bribes and appointments - with the help of which he was able to survive for so long - turned out to be a terrible obstacle when the need arrived to create an orderly system of government. All the maneuvers that helped Arafat transform an underground terrorist movement into a recognized political body worked against him when he continued to invoke them after becoming the head of a near-sovereign political entity.

He did not genuinely pursue the opponents of the agreement with Israel and did not restrain their terrorist activity. He made empty promises to the foreign statesmen he met with, to the point where many of them, especially the Israelis, despaired of him.

The person who succeeded in bringing his nation out of nowhere to the center of the Middle East arena also inflicted on them the huge disaster of the blood-drenched confrontations from which there now seem to be no way out.

14 Years Since the Passing of Yasser Arafat: His Legacy Lives

The 14th anniversary for the passing of President Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar) coincides on Sunday, WAFA reports.

On November 11, 2004, Arafat died at a French hospital where he was flown to after suffering from a sudden illness, following a tight and inhuman Israeli military siege of the presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

The late president was born in Jerusalem on August 4, 1929, as “Muhammad Yasser” Abdul Ra’ouf Daoud Suleiman Arafat al-Kidwa al-Husseini. He was educated in Cairo and participated as a reservist officer in the Egyptian army, in fighting the tripartite aggression against Egypt, in 1956.

He studied at the Faculty of Engineering at Fouad I University in Cairo, and was an active member, at a young age, in the Palestinian national movement, through his activities in the Palestine Student Union, of which he later became its president.

He also joined a group of Palestinian nationalists in the founding of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fateh) in the 1950s. He was elected chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in February, 1969, after Ahmad Shuqeiri and Yehya Hammoudeh.

On November 13, 1974, Abu Ammar delivered a speech on behalf of the Palestinian people to the UN General Assembly in New York, with which he concluded: “Today, I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

As commander-in-chief of the Joint Command of the Palestinian Revolutionary Forces and the Lebanese Nationalist Movement, Abu Ammar spearheaded, in the summer of 1982, the battle against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon and the 88-day Israeli military siege of Beirut, which ended in an agreement that allowed the Palestinian fighters to leave the city. When journalists asked Yasser Arafat, after leaving Beirut through the sea to Tunisia, aboard a Greek ship, about his next stop, he replied, “I am going to Palestine.”

Yasser Arafat and the leadership of the PLO became guests in Tunisia, and, from there, he began to work on going to Palestine.

On October 1, 1985, Yasser Arafat miraculously escaped an Israeli raid on the Hammam al-Shat suburb of Tunis, which led to the death and wounding of dozens of Palestinians and Tunisians. In 1987, Arafat directed the first uprising, the Stone Intifada, which broke out in Palestine, against the Israeli occupiers, in December of that year. At the same time, he fought political battles at the international level for the recognition of the Palestinian people, and of their just cause and aspirations.

Following the Declaration of Independence in Algiers, on 15 November, 1988, the late leader presented, at the United Nations General Assembly, on 13 and 14 December of the same year, a Palestinian initiative for a just peace in the Middle East. The General Assembly was moved, at that time, to Geneva, after the United States had refused to grant Arafat a visa to reach New York. The initiative set the foundation for US President Ronald Reagan to initiate, on 16 September, a dialogue with the PLO, that started on 30 March 1989, in Tunis.

Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed, on September 13, 1993, in the White House, the Oslo Declaration of Principles between the PLO and the Israeli government, which allowed Yasser Arafat, the PLO leadership and resistance fighters to return to Palestine after living in exile since 1948.

On January 20, 1996, Yasser Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), in general elections, and, from then, began the process of building the foundations of a Palestinian state.

However, after the failure of the Camp David negotiations, in 2000, as a result of Israeli intransigence and Yasser Arafat’s insistence to not negate Palestinian rights and constants, the second uprising, the A-Aqsa Intifada, broke out on September 28, 2000. Israeli forces and tanks besieged Arafat at his Ramallah headquarters, after accusing him of leading the Intifada. The Israeli army also invaded Palestinian cities, in an operation dubbed “Protective Shield”, and kept him under siege, in a tight space that lacked the minimum conditions for a human living, until his death on November 11, 2004.

Yasser Arafat has gone 14 years ago in body, but he left behind a legacy of struggle and a national strategy that had established for an approach followed by the founding leaders, headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

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.

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.