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Yasser Arafat (Arabic: ياسر عرفا
Arafat was the fifth of seven children born to a Palestinian textile merchant. His father’s family included some Egyptian relatives and his mother descended from a prominent Palestinian family in Jerusalem. According to Arafat and other sources, he was born in Jerusalem on August 4, 1929  (http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/a/arafaty1.asp). His date and place of birth have been disputed; some sources contend that he was born in Cairo or the Gaza Strip  (http://nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/1994/arafat-bio.html).
Arafat’s childhood was divided between Cairo and Jerusalem. Arafat attended the University of King Faud I (later renamed Cairo University) and sought to understand Judaism and Zionism by engaging in discussions with Jews and reading publications by Theodor Herzl and other Zionists  (http://cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/fyi/school.tools/profiles/Yasser.Arafat/student.storypage.html).
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Arafat left the university and, along with other Palestinians, sought to enter Palestine to fight for Palestinian independence. He was disarmed and turned back by the Egyptian army which did not allow poorly trained partisans to enter the war zone.
After returning to the university, Arafat joined the Muslim Brotherhood and served as president of the Union of Palestinian Students from 1952 to 1956. In 1956, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Arafat served as a second lieutenant in the Egyptian army during the Suez Crisis.  (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761560094/Arafat_Yasir.html)
After Suez, Arafat moved to Kuwait, where he worked as an engineer and later set up his own contracting firm.
Fatah and the PLO
In 1957 in Kuwait, Arafat with a group of refugees from Gaza helped found Fatah, an organization dedicated to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Fatah's first commando operation was an unsuccessful attempt to blow up an Israeli water pump station in 1964.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964 as a political organization unifying all resistance groups with the common goal of liberation of Palestine and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
After the Six-Day War, Israel started attacking Palestinian resistance organizations. In 1968, Israeli army attacked Fatah in the Jordanian village of Al-Karameh; 150 Palestinian guerrillas and 29 Israeli soldiers were killed. Despite heavy losses, Fatah considered this battle a victory because the Israeli army ultimately withdrew. This was a turning point for the resistance movement because it showed that resistance can effect changes. Many Palestinians regarded Fatah and Arafat as heroes for daring to confront the much more powerful Israeli army, and many young Palestinians began joining the ranks of Fatah. Fatah soon became dominant faction within the PLO and in 1969 Arafat was named chairman of the PLO. Arafat became commander in chief of the Palestinian Revolutionary Forces in 1971 and the head of the PLO's political department in 1973.
In late 1960s, tensions rose between Palestinian resistance groups and the Jordanian government. Palestinian groups had managed to control several strategic positions in Jordan, including the oil refinery near Az Zarq. Jordan considered this a growing threat to its sovereignty and security and attempted to disarm the Palestinian militias. Open fighting between Jordan and Palestinian resistance groups erupted in June of 1970.
Arab governments attempted to negotiate a peaceful solution, but the Jordan government responded to continued militant activites with escalation in repressive measures; on September 16 Jordanian King Hussein declared martial law. On that same day Arafat became supreme commander of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), the regular military force of the PLO. In the ensuing civil war the PLO had the active support of Syria, which invaded Jordan with around 200 tanks. The U.S and Israel also got involved: U.S. Navy dispatched its Sixth Fleet to the eastern Mediterranean, and Israel deployed its troops to aid King Hussein if necessary. By September 24 the Jordanian army achieved dominance, and the PLA agreed to a series of ceasefires  (http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/bravo/blacksept1970.htm). See also History of Jordan and Black September.
Following the defeat in Jordan, Arafat and the PLO relocated to Lebanon. Because of Lebanon's weak central government, the PLO was able to operate independently of Lebanese authorities. During the Israeli attacks on Lebanon the PLO began launching artillery strikes and guerilla attacks on Israel from Lebanon.
In September of 1972 the Black September group, which Israel claimed was affiliated with Fatah, kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games; all hostages were eventually killed. The killings were internationally condemned and Arafat publicly disassociated himself from such attacks. In 1974 Arafat ordered the PLO to stop acts of violence outside Israel and Israel occupied territories. In the same year Arafat became the first representative of a nongovernmental organization to address a plenary session of the UN General Assembly.
The Fatah movement continued to launch attacks against Israeli targets. In the late 1970s several new leftist organizations were formed in Palestine and carried out attacks on Israel and Israeli occupation colonies. Israel claimed that Arafat was in ultimate control over these organizations, but Arafat denied responsibility for acts of other groups.
In 1974, Arab states declared the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of all Palestinians. The PLO was admitted to full membership in the Arab League in 1976.
Israel claimed that the PLO had played an important part in the Lebanese Civil War. Some Lebanese Christians claimed that the PLO was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens killed by Israel.
Israel allied itself with the Lebanese Christians, and conducted two major invasions of Lebanon. In the first invasion (Operation Litani in ]), the Israeli military and South Lebanon Army (SLA) occupied a narrow strip of land, ostensibly as a security zone. In the second invasion ([[Operation Peace for Galilee] in 1982), Israel expanded its occupation to most of South Lebanon, but was eventually forced to retreat back to the previously occupied area in 1985. During this invasion Israel helped the Maronite Christian Phalangist militia massacre about 2,750 Palestinian refugees, mostly civilians (see Sabra and Shatila Massacre), amplifying the long-lasting bitterness and mistrust between Palestinians and Israel (the then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon was found "personally responsible" for the massacre and forced to resign; he is now Prime Minister of Israel).
In September 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the U.S. had brokered a cease-fire deal in which Arafat and the PLO were allowed to leave Lebanon. Arafat and his leadership moved to Tunisia, which remained his center of operations up until 1993.
During the 1980s, Arafat received assistance from Arab nations, which allowed him to reconstruct the Palestinian resistance movement in exile. After the spontaneous First Palestinian uprising in December of 1987, Arafat was able to quickly take control of the uprising.
On November 15, 1988, the PLO proclaimed the independent State of Palestine, a government-in-exile for the Palestinians, which initially laid claim to the whole area of the British Mandate of Palestine, rejecting the idea of partition. However, in the December 13, 1988 address, Arafat declared acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 242, promised future recognition of Israel and renounced "terrorism in all its forms, including state terrorism"  (http://mondediplo.com/focus/mideast/arafat88-en).
The Arafat's recognition of Israel was dictated by the U.S. administration, which had insisted on the recognition as a necessary starting point in the Camp David peace negotiations. Arafat's statement indicated a shift from one of the PLO's primary aims -- a liberation of the entire Palestine (which implicitly negates the validity of the proclamation of State of Israel, see Palestinian National Covenant) -- towards the establishment of two separate entities, an Israeli state within the 1949 armistice lines and a Palestinian state in the areas assigned to Palestinians by the U.N.. On April 2, 1989, Arafat was elected president of the proclaimed State of Palestine by the governing body of the PLO.
Subsequently, Israel began direct negotiations with the PLO for the first time during the 1991 Madrid Conference.
In 1991 Arafat opposed the U.S. attack on Iraq. As a result the U.S. administration began boycotting him, which impeded the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations underway.
In 1990 Arafat married Suha Tawil, a Palestinian Catholic working for the PLO in Tunis, who converted to Islam before marrying him.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3965541.stm)
Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Arafat during the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993The U.S. continued pressing both sides to negotiate and this pressure lead to the 1993 Oslo Accords. The main points of this agreement were mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO, Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and implementation of Palestinian self rule. For this peace initiative Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
In 1994, Arafat moved to the (PA) - the provisional entity created by the Oslo Accords. On January 20, 1996, Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the provisional entity created by the Oslo Accords. He received an overwhelming 87% majority ovf vote (the other candidate was Samiha Khalil). Independent international observers reported the elections to have been free and fair. Further elections were announced for January 2002, but were later postponed, reportedly because of inability to campaign due to Israeli military attacks and restrictions on freedom of movement in the territories occupied by Israel.
Since 1996, Arafat's title as Palestinian Authority leader has been "president" (the Arabic word is ra'is, or "head"; Palestinians and the U.N use the term "president", while Israel and the U.S. use the term "chairman".)
In mid-1996, following multiple suicide bombings in which scores of Israelis were killed, and Israeli attacks in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister of Israel. Palestinian-Israeli relations grew even more hostile as a consequence of continued attacks. Netanyahu tried to obstruct the transition to Palestinian statehood outlined in the Oslo accords. The U.S. President Bill Clinton intervened in 1998, arranging a meeting with the two leaders. The resulting Wye River Memorandum of October 23, 1998 presented steps to be taken by the Israeli government and the PA to implement the Oslo accords.
However, Israel made no visible attempts to live up to either the Oslo or the Wye River agreements; to the contrary, Israel steadily expanded its occupation, doubled the population in occupation colonies and kept obstructing Palestinian self-rule.
Arafat continued negotiations Prime Minister Ehud Barak. During the Camp David negotiations Barak offered a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, a return of a "limited" number of refugees and some unspecified compensation for the rest. However, because the proposed Palestinian areas did not include all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and were not contiguous but fragmented and surrounded by Israeli occupation colonies, criss-crosssed by numerous checkpoints and Jewish-only roads, Arafat rejected the offer. In the new round of talks at Taba, Egypt, several months later, Barak made a more favorable offer which was viewed positively by Palestinians. However, in the meantime Barak lost his re-election bid and the incoming Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blocked further negotiations. In 2000, after a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound considered sacred by Muslims, violence broke out, marking the beginning of the Second Palestinian Uprising.
Recent news and commentary
Arafat's personal and political survival is 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 personal survival is largely due to the Israel's fear that he could become a martyr for the Palestinian cause if he were to be assassinated or even just arrested by Israel.
Arafat's ability to adapt to new tactical and political situations is perhaps exemplified by the rise of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations, fundamentalist groups using Islamic rhetoric to motivate resistance against Israel. In the 1990s, these groups seemed to threaten Arafat's capacity to hold together a unified secular nationalist organization with a goal of statehood. They appeared to be out of Arafat's influence and control, and were actively fighting with Arafat's Fatah group. Israel claimed that activities of these groups were tolerated by Arafat as a means of applying pressure on Israel (see PLO and Hamas.) Some Israeli government officials opined in 2002 that the Fatah's faction Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades began attacks on Israel to compete with Hamas.
Frequent Israeli military strikes against the Palestinian Authority and Arafat's security infrastructure made it difficult for Arafat to effectively counter the increasing influence of militant groups. Spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad have at times publicly supported Arafat, suggesting that the common Palestinian goal of freedom looms large over infighting between various factions.
On May 6, 2002, the Israeli government claimed that it had copies of papers allegedly signed by Arafat authorizing funding for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades resistance activities. These claims, however, drew skepticism because the Israeli military had forcefully prevented any independent observers or reporters from observing the Israeli occupation of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, during which the documents were supposedly found.  (http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0lom0)
Some point to the realities of political situation, arguing that Arafat could neither condemn nor constrain the tactics employed, and that any attempt to do so would endanger his rule or his life. Furthermore, ending violent resistance activities would amount to a de facto surrender to Israel because Israel had never ceded anything, and actually expanded its occupation during periods of nonviolent resistance. The use of suicide bombers appears to be a permanent feature of this conflict. The number and intensity of attacks rose sharply in the first months of 2002.
In March 2002, the Arab League made an offer to recognize Israel in exchange for Israeli retreat from all territories captured in the Six-Day War and statehood for Palestine. Many saw this offer, which included recognition of Israel by the Arab states, as a historic opportunity for comprehensive peace in the region. However, the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon ignored this offer and made visible efforts to neutralize and sidetrack the Arab proposal, with some Israeli officials claiming that it would constitute a blow to Israel's security while not guaranteeing the cessation of suicide bombing attacks.
Israel's refusal of the Arab offer was followed by a Palestinian attack on Israel that led to more than 135 Israelis dead. Ariel Sharon subsequently stated that Arafat "assisted the terrorists and made himself an enemy of Israel and irrelevant to any peace negotiations". This was followed by the major Israeli invasion of the West Bank, during which Israel killed hundreds of Palestinians and razed entire city blocks in Jenin (see "Operation Defensive Shield".)
Attempts by Israel to find another Palestinian leader more pliable by Israel had failed, and Arafat continued enjoying the support of the majority of Palestinians, including groups that would normally have been quite wary of supporting him. So, Israel set out to isolate him, quite literally, by surrounding Arafat's headquarters and effectively imprisoning him there.
Israel allowed Arafat to briefly leave his compound on May 3, 2002, after a settlement over six resistance fighters wanted by Israel who were in Arafat's compound  (http://english.people.com.cn/200205/03/eng20020503_95112.shtml) and Arafat's promise to call on the Palestinians in Arabic to halt attacks on Israelis. He issued such a call on May 8, 2002, but violence continued.
On July 18, 2004, U.S. President George W Bush stated regarding Yasser Arafat: "The real problem is that there is no leadership that is able to say 'help us establish a state and we will fight terror and answer the needs of the Palestinians'". (Le Figaro) (http://www.lefigaro.fr/magazine/20040716.MAG0008.html)
Israel has held Arafat in virtual arrest in his Ramallah headquarters for more than 2 years, by announcing that if Arafat left the compound he would be barred from returning. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has hinted on several occassions that Arafat could be assassinated by Israel.
Illness and death
Main article: Death of Yasser Arafat
On October 28, 2004, Arafat was reported seriously ill; the next day, he was flown to France for medical treatment at Percy training hospital of the Armies, in Clamart. He lapsed into a coma on November 3, 2004, which worsened by the day. He was kept alive using life support, suffering from organ failure. He died at the hospital at 2:30am UTC on November 11, 2004 at age 75.
Funeral services are to be held at Cairo Airport, with many Muslim leaders invited. Arafat is then to be buried in his former headquarters of the Mukataa in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
He has been replaced as President of the Palestinian Authority by Rawhi Fattuh. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has taken over some of his other powers and Mahmoud Abbas has taken over leadership of the PLO. Farouk Kaddoumi has taken over as head of Fatah.
Statements by World Leaders
On November 11, 2004, the day of Arafat's death, a number of world leaders made statements summarizing his life and legacy:
French President Jacques Chirac called Arafat "a man of courage and conviction."
South African President Thabo Mbeki: Arafat had given hope to millions "by instilling in them the knowledge and consciousness that despite current difficulties, they hold the gift of freedom in their hands."
U.S. President George W. Bush said " God bless his soul ... we will continue to work for a free Palestinian state that's at peace with Israel."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told GMTV television: "The most important thing is to make sure we reinvigorate the peace process because there is misery for Palestinians, there is misery for Israelis who suffer terrorist activity."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that Yasser Arafat will be remembered as a leader who failed to grasp an opportunity for peace in the Middle East.
Relations with the Arab world
Despite generally strong support in the Arab world, Arafat has at times had a mixed relationship with some Arab countries. While most Arab leaders do publicly support him, Arafat was occasionally criticised by the Arab press, as in these examples:
Arab Times (Kuwait): 'Mr Arafat should quit his position because he is the head of a corrupt authority. There is no point for him to remain in politics... He has destroyed Palestine. He has led it to terrorism, death and a hopeless situation... All Arab leaders know this fact. It won't be possible for us to gain from the Middle East road map for peace if this man remains in power.'
Al-Quds Al-Araby (London): 'What is happening in Gaza is a healthy phenomenon because it is a revolution against corruption and the corrupt... This is a warning not only to Mr Arafat... but to all Arab regimes which subjugate their people by turning a deaf ear to their calls for comprehensive change.'
Arafat's support by Arab leaders tends to increase whenever he is pressured by Israel (such as when in 2003 Israel declared it had decided to "in principle, remove Arafat", a statement which hinted at assassination.)
Arafat still remains by far the most popular Arab leader among the general populace of Arab nations.
As the leader of Palestinian resistance Arafat has been the subject of Israeli campaigns to discredit him.
The Israeli Military Intelligence Chief claimed in August of 2002 that Arafat's personal wealth is US$ 1.3 billion,
no substantiation for this claim. The pro-Israel U.S. business magazine "Forbes"
Arafat as sixth on its 2003 list "Kings, Queens and Despots" estimating his personal wealth to "at least $300 million", without indicating its source for this claim.
However, as Arafat lives frugally and has no known major possessions, these claims appear to be based solely on Arafat's control over Palestinian public-funds.
In 2003 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conducted an audit of the Palestinian Authority and stated that Arafat diverted $900 million in public funds to a special bank account controlled by Arafat and the PA Chief Economic Financial Advisor. The IMF did not claim that there were any improprieties and it specifically stated that most of the funds have been used to invest in Palestinian assets, both internally and abroad.  (http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article1958.shtml) An investigation by European Union of claims of financial improprieties also found no improprieties.
According to "Forbes", the new PA Finance Minister is tasked with reviewing PA finances, which may result in a change of control over them.
These are some of the notable statements Yasser Arafat made over the years:
November 13, 1974: "I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
November 13, 1974: "Those who call us terrorists wish to prevent world public opinion from discovering the truth about us and from seeing the justice on our faces. They seek to bide the terrorism and tyranny of their acts, and our own posture of self-defence."
January 15, 2002: "This child, who is grasping the stone, facing the tank, is it not the greatest message to the world when that hero becomes a martyr? We are proud of them" (Palestinian Authority Television)
January 21, 2002: "I swear to God, I will see [the Palestinian state], whether as a martyr or alive. Please, God, give me the honor of becoming a martyr in the fight for Jerusalem."
September 11, 2003: "This is my homeland; no one can kick me out" Yasser Arafat's reply to Ariel Sharon's threat to expel him from the occupied territories.
February 29, 2004: "Let it collapse, it will be the fault of Israel and the Americans." Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority, to Edward G. Abington, a former State Department official who is now a Washington consultant to the Palestinian Authority regarding the future of the Palestinian Authority