Arafat, His Legacy And The Future: A Chance For Peace?

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Maverick, Soldier, Fighter, Rogue, Savior, Murderer, Abu Ammar, these are some of the names which the late President and the Chairman of the PLO has been called in recent times. Born  on 24 August 1929 in Cairo Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini . His father was a textile merchant, a Palestinian with some Egyptian ancestry, his mother from an old Palestinian family in Jerusalem, died when Yasser, as he was called, was five years old, and he was sent to live with his maternal uncle in Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, then under British rule, which the Palestinians were opposing. Little has been revealed about his childhood, but he has always said that  one of his earliest memories is of British soldiers breaking into his uncle’s house after midnight, beating members of the family and smashing furniture. Yassers childhood was an unhappy one and he didn?t like to mention about his father, at four years he was brought back to Cairo where an elder sister looked after him.

His teenage life saw him leaving his studies at the Faud university and fighting against the Jews in the Gaza area with the defeat of the Arabs and the establishment of the state of Israel Yasser was in such despair that he applied for a visa to study at the University of Texas. Recovering his spirits and retaining his dream of an independent Palestinian homeland, he returned to Faud University to major in engineering. An average student he spent most of his time in discussions and organizing the  Palestinian students at the university. Yasser passed out in 1956, and worked briefly in Egypt, He later took up employment with the Govt. of Kuwait in the Dept. of Public works and later established his own construction firm. It is said all his profits went in his political activities. The Al Fatah was founded in 1958 with like-minded friends, an underground network of secret cells, which in 1959 began to publish a magazine advocating armed struggle against Israel. At the end of 1964 Arafat left Kuwait to become a full-time revolutionary, organising Fatah raids into Israel from Jordan.


The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established, in 1964, bringing together a number of groups all working to free Palestine for the Palestinians. The Arab states sponsors of the PLO favored a more conciliatory policy than Fatah’s, but after their defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, Fatah emerged from the underground as the most powerful and best organized of the groups making up the PLO. 1969 brought the Chairmanship of the organization to Yasser Arafat  and the Fatah take over of the organization was complete.. The PLO was no longer to be something of a puppet organization of the Arab states, wanting to keep the Palestinians quiet, but an independent nationalist organization, based in Jordan. Arafat developed the PLO into a state within the state of Jordan with its own military forces. His organizing was impeccable and the attacks on the Israeli accurate. King Hussein of Jordan, disturbed by its guerrilla attacks on Israel and other violent methods, eventually expelled the PLO from his country. Arafat sought to build a similar organization in Lebanon, but this time was driven out by an Israeli military invasion. He kept the organization alive, however, by moving its headquarters to Tunis. He was a survivor himself, escaping death in an airplane crash, surviving many assassination attempts by Israeli intelligence agencies, on one occasion it is said that while standing on the port side while leaving Lebanon a soldier had him clear in his telescope lens only to be told by his superior that Tel Aviv has negated his proposal for assassination, he also suffered from a serious stroke.

Yasser Arafat whole life revolved around the Palestinian cause, every movement of his was secret, his meetings with the fighters, with the executive committee, with the Arab heads of State and other heads, His life was one of constant travel, moving from country to country . Even his marriage to Suha Tawil, a Palestinian half his age, was kept secret for some fifteen months.   Zahwa, their only child has been  named after Arafat’s mother.

The period after the expulsion from Lebanon was a low time for Arafat and the PLO. Then the intifada (shaking) protest movement strengthened Arafat by directing world attention to the difficult plight of the Palestinians. In 1988 came a change of policy. In a speech at a special United Nations session held in Geneva, Switzerland, Arafat declared that the PLO renounced terrorism and supported “the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to live in peace and security, including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbours“.

Arafat and the PLO committed a historical blunder when they supported Iraq in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, after an initial setback the peace process began in earnest, leading to the Oslo Accords of 1993, when President Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles agreement in Washington with the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

On May 4, 1994, Arafat signed the Cairo agreement with Rabin

This agreement included provision for the Palestinian elections, which would, took place in early 1996. On July 1994, he entered Gaza after 27 years in the Diaspora. In 1994, President Arafat was awarded the Nobel peace prize, which he shared with the late PM Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

On January 20, 1996, Arafat was elected President of the Palestinian National Authority with 83 percent of the vote.

Yasser Arafat has had a the most difficult of roads when compared to the other leaders of the region the path that he had chosen may have been right or wrong , we will have to leave History to decide and History is a very harsh judge. Probably only those who live in the midst of the conflict know what that means. On the other hand, solutions may be easier to see for those who have a wider view, and can watch events from afar and he wasn?t hat type.


In a situation marked by war and hatred, he had to take the risk of showing his opposite number at least a minimum of trust, trust that the peace feelers were genuine, confidence that if  offered an outstretched hand, there would be someone there to take it.He had to be careful not to displease the Hawks in the organization. He staked his political life by seeking peace in 1993 a complete about turn. That takes great courage. . For the distant viewer, from a privileged and peaceful corner of the world, it is so easy to moralise , but for Yasser it can be said the decisions he took were for the good of the Palestinian cause. He made the effort to change the direction of developments, to break out of the vicious circle of hatred and violence, and to point out a path to reconciliation.

The past cannot be forgotten, but one can take various attitudes to it. One can choose to live in its shadow, or to make use of its experience to build a better future. There are several steps to be taken bravely down the road. Yasser Arafat was synonymous with the Palestinian cause. He, who triumphantly forced his people’s plight into the world spotlight, failed to achieve his lifelong quest for Palestinian statehood. He was the standard-bearer of Palestinian nationalism for nearly half a century who never saw his dream of an independent state become reality. A career that saw him graduate from guerrilla leader to the Nobel prize-winning president of the Palestinian Authority fizzled out amid Israeli calls for his assassination and demands from his own people for drastic reform. The larger than life image will continue to be there, it is now upto the new generation to look forward to peace, to stability, and hope that the process towards a peaceful co-existence will continue.

The world awoke this morning with mixed feelings on hearing the news of his death at a Paris hospital all the words and phrases aforementioned must have been uttered, but to a man who was the standard bearer of Palestinian Nationalism and who played a big role in recent Mid – Eastern History it would be kind to say.

Good Bye Mr. President Yasser Arafat?. May you rest in peace.

Author: Brian Nazareth- Koppa


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