By David N. Bossie* & Christopher M. Gray*
Yasser Arafat’s own handwriting reveals he personally authorizes the suicide terror bombings against Israelis we see on television. Despite the Palestinian dictator’s claim that he has renounced terrorism, captured documents indicate he is still a bloodthirsty hater of Israel. He rants in a recent proclamation praising the suicide bombers: “one voice can overcome the sound of the Intifada. It will continue to be the Intifada of the one people and one outburst of blood will continue to be a prolonged intifada of rage.” Despite being a co-winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, Arafat’s mind is obviously not interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel. So how has this lifelong architect of terror managed to be taken seriously for so long?
Yasser Arafat is a survivor. This self-proclaimed leader of the Palestinian people has walked a high wire for over half a century. Arafat has survived numerous factional fights, assassination attempts, and a near fatal plane crash. He has lived in six different countries and been expelled from four of them. The four countries that welcomed and later expelled him all did so for the same reason: his skills at organizing terror and propaganda campaigns against Israel. His career appeared to be over in 1982 when Israeli troops forced him out of Lebanon into exile in Tunisia. But the 1993 Oslo Accords revived him and he returned to Israel’s occupied territories along the Jordan River and Gaza strip as head of the Palestinian Authority.
Arafat’s survival skills enable him to climb up what Disraeli called the “greasy pole” of power and stay there. He has always managed to attract financial and military support from outside countries despite a long record of waste, fraud, and abuse in accounting systems and a complete failure to organize a well-run operation. Despite being personally unpopular with those Palestinians who actually deal with him, Arafat is still considered the leader of his stateless people.
II) Early Life and Career-1929-1968.
A) The Years in Cairo and Jerusalem, 1929-1957
Arafat was born Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat Al Qudua Al Husseini in Cairo, Egypt on August 24, 1929. Mohammed Abdel Rahman is his first name; Abdel Raouf is his father’s name; Arafat is the name of his grandfather; Al Qudua is the family name; and Al Husseini is the clan Al Qudua belongs to. Arafat chose to call himself Yasser after Yasser bin Ammar, a celebrated Muslim warrior and companion of the Prophet Mohammed. He usually lies about his place of birth, claiming it as Jerusalem, not Cairo. Arafat tells this lie for political purposes; the self-anointed leader of the Palestinians is embarrassed he spent many of his early years in Egypt and retains an Egyptian accent. Both Arafat’s parents were Palestinian natives, but his merchant father moved the family from Jerusalem to Cairo in 1927 seeking a better life for his family.
Arafat’s mother died when he was four. Young Arafat did not get along with his domineering father or stepmothers, so he was sent in 1933 to be reared by an uncle on his mother’s side in Jerusalem. The four happy years Arafat spent with his beloved Jerusalem uncle influenced him deeply; he decided then Jerusalem was to be his home. In 1937 Arafat’s father ordered him back to Cairo. Arafat rejected both his stepmothers’ and his father’s authority. Instead he became a bullying teenage gang leader. Even as a boy, the future terrorist leader displayed the pronounced character traits that became notorious to the world: extraordinary energy; a deep belief in his own destiny; the theatricality and timing necessary for political success; a taste for gangsterism; an inability to think through the strategic implications of his actions; a weak grasp of the importance of organization; an inability to manage money or understand economics; a sixth sense of survival; and a domineering will to power.
Arafat’s extraordinary will to power made him politically influential at the tender age of 17. It was then he met Hajj Amin Al Husseini, (1893-1974), the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who arrived in Cairo in 1946. Arafat’s maternal cousin, Sheik Hassan Abu Saud, the Mufti’s top assistant and adviser, introduced him to the Mufti’s inner circle.
The Grand Mufti served as the nationalist leader of Palestine’s Arab population from 1920 through the 1950’s. A fanatical and bloodthirsty anti-Semite, the blue-eyed Mufti was the main enemy of Palestine’s Zionist Jews. The Mufti refused to live peacefully with the Jews immigrating to Palestine. Instead, he regarded them as infidel intruders who must be expelled by force. The Mufti hated the British for promulgating the 1917 Balfour Declaration granting a Jewish homeland in Palestine. So he constantly instigated terrorist riots and murders against the Zionists and then piously disclaimed responsibility for his actions, a less his protégé Yasser Arafat learned well. Both the 1929 and 1936 Arab pogroms in Jerusalem were inspired by the Grand Mufti. He even visited Berlin during World War II to ask Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler for help against the British and the Zionists. As Arab expert Fouad Ajami observes, the Mufti took his followers on a disastrous ride-a trail of assassinations and terror and never doubted the wisdom of what he had done.
After spending the war in Nazi Germany, the Grand Mufti escaped arrest by taking sanctuary in Egypt. The Mufti then spent two years using his Arab Higher Committee organization to buy weapons to arm Palestinian Arabs so they could drive out the Zionists once the British withdrew in May 1948. The Mufti firmly believed outside Arab states would ride to the rescue of the Palestinians. He employed a former Nazi commando officer to train Arafat and other young Palestinians in special operations warfare for the coming conflict. Young Arafat helped the Mufti find and purchase World War II small arms while ostensibly studying engineering at Cairo University. Arafat neglected his studies in favor of these military activities and political agitation. The Mufti was impressed by his teenage protégé and encouraged him to be a full-time Palestinian political activist.
Arafat adored the Mufti. He modeled much of his later career on the Grand Mufti’s example. He falsely claims he is related to the Mufti’s family. For political reasons, the Mufti did not refute this Arafat lie. Arafat’s ideas on Palestinian nationalism derive directly from the Mufti. So does his eagerness to employ terrorism against the Zionist enemy. The checkered kuffiyah headdress he wears is the same one worn by Jew-hating Arab rioters during the Mufti-led Jerusalem pogrom of 1936. Arafat’s skill at manipulating many different foreign client states with different aims to support the Palestine Liberation Organization is also modeled on the Mufti’s wily practice. Arafat’s traditional Muslim religious observance also closely follows the Mufti’s example. The young Palestinian informally affiliated himself with members of the Radical Islamic Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (See CU Public Policy Review Vol. II, Issue 1, Bin Laden’s Rage: Why He and His Followers Hate the United States for analysis of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.) This Muslim Brotherhood connection helped Arafat gain entry to traditional Muslim circles in Egypt and the Persian Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Arafat did not just emulate the Mufti’s theological stance. He also excelled in combat, something that pleased the Mufti, a genuine World War I hero. During the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Arafat fought bravely in the Gaza Strip (located in southwestern Palestine) with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood militants against Israeli forces in a losing cause. Arafat later re-wrote his combat record by: claiming he fought in Jerusalem, the sacred city Palestinians regard as their capital, and by falsely insisting he took on Israeli armored personnel carriers in Gaza. Unlike many Palestinians, Arafat did not excuse Arab incompetence and lack of discipline for Israel’s 1948 combat victory. Arafat decided then “the Catastrophe,” as Palestinians describe how 800,000 of them fled their homes from Israeli forces into permanent exile in 1948, occurred because Palestinians put their trust in the treacherous and incompetent Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan (later known as Jordan). While finishing his engineering studies during the mid-1950’s, Arafat decided, contrary to the Mufti, if Palestinians were to possess their own nation, they must create it themselves, not depend on outside Arab countries to do it for them. However, he did agree with the Mufti the only way Palestinians could achieve statehood was by force.
These two fervent convictions set Arafat apart from all other Palestinian nationalists. No other Palestinian leader combined these two bold strategies. They explain how Arafat replaced the Grand Mufti as the leader of Palestinian nationalism. Arafat announced his philosophy of national liberation early on: “Violence is the only solution” and “Liberating Palestine could only take place through the barrel of a gun.” This radical thinking led Arafat to later demand all PLO members publicly swear a blood oath to destroy Israel. In his twenties, Arafat began putting these violent tenets into practice. When not politicking or studying, Arafat served as a fedayeen (literally, “self-sacrificers”) guerrilla raiding the Gaza Strip during the 1950’s, especially during the 1956 Arab-Israeli War in Suez. When Egyptian military dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser forbid fedayeen raids in 1957, Arafat decided to abandon Egypt for greener political pastures. Nasser, who Arafat idolized, betrayed the Palestinian militants by stopping their raids. During the 1953-54 academic year, Arafat had actually wanted to leave Egypt to study in the United States at the University of Texas. His application was rejected, but this action indicates he was not always a vocal anti-American. After attempting to immigrate to Canada, Arafat settled for living in Kuwait, beginning in 1957, where he knew rich Palestinians willing to fund a national movement resided.
B) Founding Fatah: The Years in Kuwait and Syria, 1957-1967
Arafat labored hard to build an autonomous Palestinian liberation movement in Kuwait. He called this liberation movement “Fatah.” (i.e., acronym for Palestine National Liberation Movement). [The 1958 military overthrow of Iraq’s monarchy promised a regime in Baghdad that might be sympathetic to Arafat’s cause.] Two Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood friends from Gaza who he met earlier in the 1950’s, Abu Iyad and Abu Jihad, later also moved to Kuwait to assist the movement. Abu Iyad served as the movement’s writer and editor of its monthly magazine, Filastinuna, Nida Al Hayat (Our Palestine, The Call of Life) in 1959. Abu Jihad became Arafat’s deputy military commander. These two men became Arafat’s chief aides; the only people allowed to correct or contradict their commander. Outside of Abu Iyad and Abu Jihad, Arafat is surrounded, in Edward Said’s (For Said, see CU Policy Review Vol. II, Issue 6 Blame America First, Again: The Campus Left Reacts to the War on Terror) words, by sycophants, yes-men, and mediocrities.
Because Arafat needed money to pay Fatah’s employees, he developed strong fundraising skills while running his engineering business. Arafat found his Muslim Brotherhood background useful in reassuring conservative Kuwaiti, Saudi, Syrian, and Palestinian exile donors he was not a Socialist or Communist radical. Arafat avoided alcohol, gambling, social radicalism, and wild women. His only indulgences were driving sports cars and watching animated cartoons on television. Arafat also instituted two policies that well served Fatah and later the PLO: 1) avoid Arab feuds; and 2) only accept funds with no strings attached. These two policies protected Fatah’s independence of action for the next four decades. They also guaranteed rich donors in the Persian Gulf states would keep Fatah, and later the PLO, alive during the tough times ahead.
During 1963-64, after negotiating with both Iraq and Syria over setting up Fatah training camps for terrorists in their respective countries, Arafat chose Syria since it allowed him more autonomy. Syria’s military dictatorship sought to pressure Egypt into joining in a war of attrition against Israel. Fatah’s raids, conducted from Lebanon and Jordan, offered a win-win proposition for Syria. The raids would elicit fierce Israeli military retaliations against Syria’s immediate rivals and neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, thus de-stabilizing them. Fatah’s raids also embarrassed Egypt, Syria’s other rival, by making Nasser look too timid to militarily confront Israel.
From 1964 to 1967, Fatah’s fedayeen, often led in person by Arafat, conducted raids against Israel that murdered several people, mostly civilians, but accomplished nothing of strategic value. However, the raids stirred Palestinian emotions popularized Syria in the Arab world. As a result, Egypt’s Nasser created his own puppet Palestinian terrorist group, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO. The PLO, based in the Gaza Strip, periodically conducted small raids against Israel. Although the raids were minor affairs, they helped provoke the Third Arab-Israeli “Six-Day War” of June 1967.
Israel’s crushing victory in this war against the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and their Palestinian auxiliaries devastated the Arab world. Israel’s Air Force destroyed its combined enemies’ air forces on the first day of the war. Then the Israeli army easily defeated the Arab ground forces. Nasser, the idol of so many Arabs, was humiliated by the Egyptian Army’s complete defeat. Israel seized Egypt’s Sinai Desert and Gaza Strip, Syria’s Golan Heights, and most humiliating of all, Jordan’s East Jerusalem, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the lands on the West Bank of the Jordan River: Hebron, Judea, and Samaria. Jerusalem, the sacred city of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, which included the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine of Islam (See Bin Laden’s Rage for first two holiest places), was now completely controlled by the Israelis. More Palestinians than ever now lived under Israel’s flag.
C) Arafat becomes Mr. Palestine, 1967-68
In spite of Fatah’s raids helping to bring on the disastrous Six-Day War, Arafat emerged, ironically, as the only Arab hero. Fatah kept up its raids after the war’s end on June 10, 1967. The organization’s defiant fighting spirit thrilled Arabs despite its limited military effectiveness. Arafat skillfully led a defensive battle at Karameh, on the West Bank of the Jordan in March 1968. This successful defense against the massive Israeli attack constituted a moral victory since it was the best Arab showing by far against the superior Israeli Army to date. Even the proud Nasser conceded Arafat was the man of the hour by humbly welcoming him to Cairo and naming him Chairman of the PLO. The PLO was now consolidated with Fatah and other small fedayeen organizations. Arafat, who more than anyone else, triggered the Six Day War disaster, was now the most popular politician in the Arab world despite ruling no state. The rulers of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan were compelled by public opinion to bow down before him.
Since the Karameh military action, money rolled into the PLO’s coffers from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and other oil rich Arab states. Volunteer terrorists arrived in huge numbers at the PLO training camps that now spread from Algeria to Iraq. But Arafat’s character did not change. He did not know how to manage money or an organization. These weaknesses continue today.
III) Chairman of the PLO: The Years in Jordan, the 1972 Munich Massacre, and the Years in Lebanon, 1968-1982.
A) The Jordan Interlude, 1968-71
Following Karameh, Arafat moved his Headquarters from Syria to Jordan, so the PLO could raid Israel’s new occupied territories on the West Bank. King Hussein of Jordan did not want Arafat and his undisciplined PLO terrorists in his kingdom but their high popularity in the Arab world forced him to be hospitable. Arafat and his terrorist troops arrogantly took advantage of their popularity. The Palestinian refugees outnumbered native Jordanian Bedouins roughly 2-1 at this time. PLO members repeatedly clashed with Jordanian soldiers and security forces in thousands of incidents between 1968 and 1970. The PFLP faction of Palestinian terrorists hijacked several jetliners in late 1970 and Arafat refused to control or punish them. It was painfully obvious to King Hussein that Arafat could not control his unruly “army” of terrorists.
In September 1970, King Hussein ordered the Jordanian Army to expel the PLO from Jordan. The Jordanians badly defeated the PLO but did not expel all of them during the battle PLO terrorists described as “Black September.” The next year the Jordanian Army evicted the last of the PLO from Jordan. Arafat was compelled to move his unruly PLO mob to new headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. Southern Lebanon now became the main base for PLO terrorist attacks against Israel.
B) Lebanese Interlude, 1971-1982
A year after beating a disorderly retreat to Lebanon, Arafat’s PLO demonstrated it knew how to terrorize civilians. A branch of the PLO calling itself “Black September” performed several spectacular terrorist acts, the most notorious being the kidnap and massacre of eleven unarmed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Arafat knew the Black September faction planned these actions but chose not to stop them. In the Western world, public opinion was horrified by these PLO atrocities. The Arab world, though, seemed to tacitly approve, since no one condemned these acts.
Next year, though, the Yom Kippur War tipped the Middle East balance of power against Arafat and the PLO. Anwar Sadat, who became Egypt’s President after his mentor Nasser died in 1970, joined Syrian dictator Hafez Assad in launching a surprise attack on Israel during October 1973. Both the United States and Soviet Union got involved in the war helping their respective allies with airlifted supplies; of course the U.S. aided Israel and the Soviets aided Egypt and Syria. The Persian Gulf Arab countries also involved themselves in the war by cutting back oil production to Western countries to force them to understand Arab intentions. Although Israel won the war, the Egyptians fought very well and recovered the pride and prestige they lost during the Six Day War, thus accomplishing Sadat’s aim. Sadat then happily responded to President Nixon’s and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s offer to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Egypt.
Eventually Nixon and Kissinger’s diplomatic intervention resulted in Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel, the 1978 Camp David talks, and the 1979 Treaty of Peace signed between Egypt and Israel during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency. In order to make peace with Israel, recover lost Egyptian territory, and receive American economic aid, Sadat now offered Arafat and the PLO only verbal expressions of support. Egypt, the most powerful and populous Arab country, decided peace with Israel was far more important than the fate of Palestinian refugees. In 1977, when Sadat first visited Israel, Arafat condemned Sadat as a traitor. But Arafat was forced to publicly pretend he also wanted peace after Sadat’s bold statesmanship thrilled the world. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Muslim Brotherhood fanatics. Since 1973, Sadat, and his successor Hosni Mubarak, made sure Egypt offers no real help to Arafat and the PLO. And if Mubarak ever mentions the PLO, he does it only as a sop to anti-Israel Egyptian public opinion.
A Syrian stab in the back accompanied Egypt’s betrayal of the PLO. Hafez Assad decided in 1974 to disengage his own military forces from Israel’s, using Henry Kissing as mediator. Like Sadat, Assad was weary of the PLO and eager to reduce its influence over him. Arafat had worn out his welcome with the powerful Arab countries, although he continued to receive money from the rich but weak Persian Gulf states. Thanks to these Gulf countries, the October 1974 Arab Summit recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” thus Arafat was also recognized as Palestine’s Head of State by the Arab countries.
But these public tributes failed to mask the fact that the Arab powers and the superpowers privately regarded the PLO as an unwanted stepchild. Arafat, the Palestinian nationalist who long ago decided foreign powers would do nothing for his stateless country, now decided only the United States and international public opinion could rescue his cause. Arafat tried to secretly contact Kissinger to start peace negotiations for a Palestinian state, but the United States refused to recognize the PLO until it abandoned its blood oath against Israel. The Soviet Union cynically supported PLO terrorism to try to destabilize America’s ally Israel but refused to do anything for the Palestinians themselves.
So Yasser Arafat tried publicly pleading the PLO’s cause to the United Nations in November 1974. He became the first UN General Assembly speaker to give an address wearing a gun holster. The UN did at least insist the gun holster be empty. Arafat’s speech offering Israel a choice between “the gun or the olive branch” was good theater. The United Nations General Assembly resolution asserting that “Zionism was a form of racism and racial discrimination” in 1975 (later rescinded in 1991) was also a resounding propaganda victory but failed to change the PLO’s weak hand.
Syrian military forces invading Lebanon in June 1976 further weakened the PLO’s hand. Henry Kissinger gave Assad permission for this move because he wanted to reduce PLO terrorist attacks on Israel and stabilize Lebanon, which suffered from PLO domination. Lebanon, once known as “the Switzerland of the Middle East,” had degenerated into disorder and corruption. Terrorist gangs with different national and religious affiliations warred with each other constantly. In historian Conor Cruise O’Brien’s words, “Syrian forces clashed repeatedly with those of the PLO and eventually, though not easily, brought them under control, thus “freezing” the civil war between the PLO and Syria.”
Despite the civil war with Syria in Lebanon, PLO fedayeen continued to raid Israel. In March 1978, Fatah fedayeen conducted a raid by boat from Lebanon in which 37 Israeli civilians were massacred. Israel hit back hard, as it usually did, with counterterrorist raids. This pattern has continued for two decades. The only change in the pattern was the location of Arafat’s base; it went from Syria, to Jordan, to Lebanon.
But Menachem Begin, the hard line conservative Likud Party Israeli Prime Minister serving from 1977-83 planned to punish the PLO with two strategies much rougher than mere counterterrorist raids. Begin and his Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir were once both terrorists themselves during the 1940’s. Both men prided themselves on their toughness. Begin’s first strategy involved settling Israelis in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank provinces of Judea and Samaria on a larger scale than the Labor Party did over the previous decade. The Israeli settlers were given financial incentives by the government to locate in the territories where they were outnumbered more than 10-1. The settlements indicated to Palestinians that the territories would be permanently incorporated into Israel. Begin began executing the first strategy in 1977 and this is still the Israeli government policy of both Labor and Likud parties.
Begin waited until re-election as Prime Minister in 1981 before undertaking the second strategy. The second strategy aimed at invading Lebanon with a large army to wipe out the PLO once and for all. In June 1982, after a PLO terrorist incident, the Israeli army and air force invaded Lebanon, under the direction of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Arafat displayed extraordinary physical courage during the invasion but the 11,000 remaining members of the poorly organized PLO were finally driven out of Beirut. But the Israelis’ military success backfired after news broke of the Sabra-Chatilla massacre of 2000 Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militia in September, 1982. The Israelis loosely oversaw the militias when the atrocities occurred. The massacres aroused sympathy for the moribund Palestinian cause and handed the departing Arafat an unexpected propaganda victory. The PLO now took refuge in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia, several hundred miles to the West. Arafat was now expelled from his fourth country, the PLO from its third.
IV) Chairman of the PLO, 1982-1993: Exile in Tunisia; The Start of the Intifada, The Gulf War.
Arafat remained defiant in Tunisia. Dissident PLO members challenged his decision to leave Lebanon. Hafez Assad, hoping to eliminate Arafat, backed the dissidents. Arafat returned to Lebanon to organize the loyal PLO members against the dissidents. As Said Aburish writes, “After fighting Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Lebanese, in August 1983 Arafat and his loyalists were fighting fellow Palestinians.” In October a Shiite suicide bomb in nearby Beirut killed 300 U.S. Marines and French paratroops. This surreal inter-Palestinian Lebanese fighting lasted until December 1983, when Arafat evacuated Lebanon again, this time with 4,000 followers.
After the 1983 challenge to his one-man rule, Arafat set out deliberately to eliminate all opposition within the PLO. Fouad Ajami observes: “The man had not changed. In exile he had monopolized power and controlled the finances of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He took away the power of his two old and honest friends Abu Jihad and Abu Iyad because he feared they might overthrow him; and they opposed his efforts to win the friendship of the United States by temporarily halting PLO terrorist raids and exchanging intelligence with the CIA. Arafat abandoned his old friends and rewarded sycophantic cronies. Huge sums of money donated to the PLO disappeared without trace; Palestinian construction millionaire Kamel Abdel Rahman willed $70 million to the organization and not even his own family knows where the money went.”
While Arafat wasted money and time seeking help from foreign powers, the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank rescued his floundering cause. In December 1987, the Intifada (“tremor”) revolt broke out. Palestinian boys began throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. Soon mass riots of Palestinian children throwing rocks and raising the Palestinian flag broke out. For two weeks both Arafat and the Israeli Cabinet were baffled about how to respond to this children’s crusade. Abu Jihad finally persuaded Arafat to aid the rioting children with money and organization to keep the unplanned intifada alive. Abu Jihad became the manager, the brain in exile, of the spontaneous movement.
The Israelis were baffled by the intifada and failed to find a method of controlling it. The fact that the Palestinian population was younger and had a much higher birth rate than the Israelis gave them a big advantage. The Palestinians could replace their losses much quicker than the Israelis could. The governments of Arab countries at first welcomed the Intifada but then changed their minds. They feared a spontaneous uprising by their own peoples. The Arab governments decided to contain the intifada by providing Arafat with money to finance and control the rebellion. If he headed the rebellion, the Arab governments figured, no radical revolution would occur. Arafat, despite his many flaws, survives as leader of the Palestinians because Arab rulers, Arab financiers, and even Israeli and U.S. officials always decide he is less dangerous to them than alternative leadership.
Arafat’s attempts to control the intifada failed. The Palestinian youths leading the rebellion despised him and his corrupt PLO government in exile. However, they did honor Abu Jihad, who had stayed in close touch with student groups, trade associations, and charitable groups. Abu Jihad tried to use the intifada to purge the PLO of its corruption. He argued for more control over Arafat’s dictatorial ways. But this Arafat lieutenant, coordinator of the intifada, and organizer of many terrorist murders himself, was assassinated by Israeli commandos in April 1988.
Instead of ending the Intifada, Abu Jihad’s assassination exacerbated it. Palestinian children continued to disrupt the Israeli occupation. Sensing a change in foreign opinion, especially in the United States, in June 1988 Arafat began publicly proclaiming his willingness to support UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which jointly accepted Israel’s right to exist and an autonomous Palestinian state. On December 14 he proclaimed Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, thus winning American willingness to deal directly with the PLO.
Arafat’s desire to please the United States was not purely altruistic; the PLO was running short of money. There were two reasons for this shortage: 1) Arafat’s usual financial prodigality; and 2) Since 1985, Persian Gulf countries were donating huge sums to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to help it in its cruel war against their common enemy, Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran. In order to please his Persian Gulf donors and keep up pressure on Israel, Arafat befriended Saddam Hussein.
After Iraq finally won its nine-year war with Iran in 1989, Saddam Hussein needed money. So he prepared to invade Kuwait to seize its oil fields and perhaps blackmail Saudi Arabia for money. In August 1990, the Iraqi Army invaded and captured Kuwait. Most leaders of the Palestinian intifada and PLO deputy Abu Iyad wisely opposed Saddam Hussein’s invasion. They knew supporting the Iraqi invasion would turn both the Persian Gulf countries and the United States against their cause. But Arafat made the biggest error of his career by backing Saddam Hussein’s invasion. He alienated the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates who had paid PLO bills over the years. Worse than that, he alienated the United States, which immediately launched a military response to drive the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait in February 1991.
Yet the intifada rescued Arafat from his huge mistake. The rebellion persisted despite stern Israeli measures. Even though the Saudis and other Gulf rulers were soured on Arafat, nobody else seemed capable of representing the Palestinians. The United States announced an international peace conference dealing with the Middle East in October 1991. Although Arafat had previously rejected more favorable terms than those offered by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, his current situation compelled him to join the talks. Arafat’s survival of an April 1992 plane crash reminded everyone he was still necessary to any Palestinian deal. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin still could not quell the intifada after five years of targeted assassinations against terrorist bombers, so he decided to directly negotiate with a weakened and somewhat discredited Arafat.
The PLO’s office in Norway’s capital of Oslo was selected as the site for secret meetings apart from the U.S. international peace conference. The negotiations took a year. Since the PLO was bankrupt and diplomatically isolated, Arafat was compelled to accept conditions he would have rejected outright just a few years before: 1) no Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the Old City, East Jerusalem, or Gaza were eliminated; 2) only limited autonomy over municipal affairs was granted; 3) Israel got the bulk of water rights; 4) Israel defined the borders and refugee return status; and most importantly, 5) Israel continued to rule over all of Jerusalem.
V) Head of the Palestinian Authority, 1993-to Present Day.
Many Palestinians regarded Arafat’s signing of the Oslo Accords in August 1993 as a betrayal. One democratic, non-violent Palestinian leader familiar to television viewers, Hanan Ashrawi, argued that Arafat’s secret negotiations were a poor deal: “Peres made fools of them, smiled and got everything. I believe firmly that we could have got more [in Washington].” Her colleague Faisal Husseini, also committed to democracy and non-violence, agreed. When they and other colleagues objected to the substance of the Accords, Arafat screamed back, “We’re broke, we couldn’t continue!” The Israelis had conceded the one matter he cared about: Yasser Arafat’s PLO was recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat was to be head of the Palestinian National Authority, or PNA, in the Israeli plan. While they recognized his dictatorial ambitions, Ashrawi and Husseini failed to realize Arafat was just biding his time before resorting to terrorism again to pressure the Israelis to invite foreign, especially American, diplomatic intervention to compel a real Palestinian state.
Arafat delayed arriving in Gaza to take control of the PNA headquarters there until July 1, 1994. He spent eight months building up support for the unpopular Oslo Accords because he feared assassination from Palestinian militants. After taking office as President of the Council of the PNA, Arafat reverted to his usual dictatorial habits. As his biographer Said Aburish writes:
“The [PNA] council had not been elected, so this amounted to a granting of absolute power to the PLO pending the holding of elections. Not only did the chairman of the PLO become the president of the PNA, he was also its prime minister, the commander of the armed forces and president of the legislative council, and had the power to appoint, promote and fire members of the judiciary. The executive, legislative, and judicial powers of the PNA were thus vested in the person of Yasser Arafat or subordinated to PLO bodies over which he presided. It amounted to installing a one-man, one-party system.”
Although committed to democracy for themselves, the Rabin Cabinet cynically calculated that allowing Arafat to be a dictator would make him easier to manage and hold to account.
So the Israeli leaders looked the other way when Arafat ignored local Palestinian leaders, even the elected ones, in favor of installing his PLO cronies from Lebanon and Tunis as replacements for the Israeli military authorities. To quote Aburish again:
“The retreating Israelis were replaced by elements of Arafat’s three sources of power: nine thousand security men who had been living in Arab countries since the debacle of Lebanon, the Tunis [PLO] bureaucracy, and a small group of money men and notables who owed their loyalty to their chief and not to the Palestinian cause. To the people of the occupied territories the newcomers were an alien governing group, many of whom spoke with Lebanese, Syrian, or other accents.”
The Palestinian people were now to exchange Israeli repression for PLO repression. Arafat created a cabinet, security apparatus, and propaganda authority to control all political aspects of Palestinian life: trade unions; non-governmental organizations; the news media. Finances, especially humanitarian aid programs, were also placed under dictator Arafat’s complete control, so he could dole out charitable money for terrorism or to reward sycophantic cronies.
Although foreign observers tend to think Palestinian suicide bombings began in earnest in 2000, after the failed Camp David talks, they actually began occurring in 1994. The pace picked up once Arafat began to receive more aid from foreign governments, both Persian Gulf states and Iraq and Iran. While waiting for the money to arrive, Arafat ordered his security forces to arrest anyone troublesome. Often they killed Palestinian PNA critics. When the money arrived, much of it mysteriously disappeared. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed how $180 million in taxes refunded to the PNA was transferred to an account personally controlled by Arafat. The Independent, a leftist British journal, reported in May 1997 that $323 million, half of the PNA’s expenditures in 1996, was lost to corruption. Arafat refused to explain how the money was spent.
The Palestinian homicide bombings and Israeli reprisals continued during the late 1990’s. The Israelis demanded that Arafat stop the terror. He outwardly promised compliance but the terror continued. Between September 1993 and September 2000, 256 Israelis and 369 Palestinians perished. Arafat knew Israel could not sustain this ratio of losses so he kept dispatching terrorist bombers and waited for the United States to help him pressure Israel. President Bill Clinton, seeking a legacy for his scandal-ridden presidency, convened a peace conference on the Palestinian issue at Camp David during the summer of 2000. Although Israeli champions contended Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered 90% of the West Bank and Gaza territories to Arafat, little progress was made on the main sticking points of water rights, borders, Palestinian statehood, return of 1948 or 1967 refugees; and the status of Jerusalem. But one development did arise from Camp David 2000: Arafat realized how eager the United States and European countries were to pressure Israel into making concessions to him.
When he returned to Gaza, Arafat decided to step up terror bombings against Israel. Middle East expert and former Reagan Administration official Harvey Sicherman observes:
Arafat’s apparent strategy was to make enough mayhem to compel international intervention on behalf of his declared goals: Israel behind the June 4, 1967 lines; a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and the West Bank; its capital in Jerusalem; control of the Old City; and a return of refugees to pre-1967 Israel.
Arafat did not lack for instruments of mayhem. The PNA was receiving huge legal subsidies from Persian Gulf ($45 million a month until April 2002, when it became $55 million a month) and European Union states ($9 million a month) as well as secret money, terrorism training, and bombs from Syria, Iraq, and Iran. These three countries directly sponsor the Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombers.
Two-thirds of the PNA’s $90 million a month budget was allocated to salaries; much of to terrorists and their commanders. Captured documents in Arafat’s handwriting indicate, despite his lies to the contrary, he orchestrated the suicide bombing campaign killing innocent men, women, and children. The documents also prove PNA Security Chief Jibril al-Rajoub, PNA Intelligence Chief Tawfiq al-Tirawi, and PNA Financier Fouad Shubaki are deeply involved in organizing and sponsoring the terror. The so-called Al-Aqsa brigades conducting most of the terror are part of Arafat’s traditional Fatah command. This terror campaign has murdered 505 Israelis, mostly civilians, since September 2000. Palestinian deaths numbered roughly 1,000 over the same period.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iraq are rewarding the families of Palestinian suicide bombers with ample financial compensation; the former country is holding televised telethons for the families while Saddam Hussein is dispensing $21,000 a piece. While the spring 2002 Israeli Operation Defensive Shield offensive disrupted and slowed the terror bombings, they did not halt them, which continue even now.
Yasser Arafat is an old (72) man in a hurry now. After over half a century of failure and frustration, he thinks he is close to the goal spelled out by Harvey Sicherman. Demographics increasingly favor him; 4.9 million Israeli Jews are now matched up against 3.15 million Palestinians in pre-1967 Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. There are also 5 million Palestinian exiles living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and other Arab states willing to aid Arafat’s cause to some extent. He ignores the distrust felt for him by his fellow Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans. The terror bombings will continue until the United States can perhaps overthrow Iraq, shut off its terrorist aid to Arafat and the PNA, and reconfigure a new balance of power in the Middle East.
1. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Involvement of Arafat, PA Senior Officials and Apparatuses in Terrorism Against Israel, Corruption and Crime www.mfa.gov.il/mfa.go.asp
2. Said K. Aburish, Arafat: From Defender to Dictator (New York: Bloomsbury, 1998), page 6.
3. Janet and John Wallach, Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder (New York: Carol, 1990), pp. 26-27.
4,5. Aburish, Chapter 1; Wallach & Wallach, Chapters 1 & 2.
6,7. Fouad Ajami, The Dream Palace of the Arabs (New York: Pantheon, 1998), pp. 265-266.
8,9. Aburish, pp. 15-18; Wallach, page 71.
10,11. Aburish, Chapter 1.
12. Aburish, Chapter 1.
13. Aburish, pp. 19-32.
14,15. Ibid., Chapter 2. Next two paragraphs are also based on this source.
16. Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1986), Chapters 6 and 7; Malcolm Kerr, The Arab Cold War: Camal Abd al-Nassir and His Rivals 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); Wallach & Wallach, Chapters 6-10; Aburish, op.cit. These are also sources for the next two paragraphs.
17. Aburish, Chapter 3; Wallach & Wallach, Chapters 9-12.
18,19. Aburish, Chapter 4; O’Brien, Chapter 10; Wallach & Wallach, Chapters 10-12 are sources for this and preceding paragraph.
20. O’Brien, Chapter 11; Aburish, Chapter 5; Wallach & Wallach, Chapters 19-20 are sources of this and next five paragraphs.
21,22. O’Brien, Chapter 12; Aburish, Chapters 5,6; Wallach & Wallach, Chapters 13, 14 are sources for this and next paragraph.
23,24. Aburish, pp. 183-85.
25,26. Fouad Ajami, The Dream Palace of the Arabs (New York: Pantheon, 1998), page 272.
27,28. Aburish, page 195.
29,30. Aburish, direct quote, page 203.
31,32. Aburish, page 209.
33,34. Aburish, Chapters 7,8 and Ajami, Chapter 5 are sources for this and next three paragraph.
35. Aburish, pp. 256, 258; Ajami, Chapter 5.
36. Aburish, page 275.
37. Aburish, pp. 307-308.
38. All population figures come from www.palestinecenter.org, www.btselem.org and www.mfa.il
39. Robert Wright, “Was Arafat the Problem” Slate April 18, 2002, www.slate.com; Hussein Agha & Robert O’Malley, “Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors” New York Review of Books August 9, 2001, www.nybooks.com
40. Harvey Sicherman, “Next Steps in the Middle East,” May 2002, www.fpri.org
41. All references to Arafat controlling terror and budget figures are in Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Report, op.cit.