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The Struggle for Peace

Background    Key Players    Wye Agreement    Maps    Related Sites

Yasser Arafat
Palestinian Authority President
Yasser Arafat

Creating a Palestinian state has been a dream of Yasser Arafat's since he was a Palestinian nationalist in Egypt smuggling guns from Egypt into Palestine.

That dream sustained him during his years as a guerrilla fighter with a pistol on his hip, and it has guided him through his leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

He has been so adamant about it, in fact, that in the months leading up to the agreement signed in late October 1998 at the Wye River Conference Center in Maryland, Arafat swore that Palestinians would create their own state even if they never reached a peace agreement with Israel.

Arafat was born Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat al Qudwa al-Hussein in Cairo, Egypt, on August 24, 1929, the son of a successful merchant. His mother died when he was 4, and he went to live with an uncle in Jerusalem, a city that was a British protectorate.

It was during those years that Arafat was first exposed to the clash between Arabs and Jews, including many who immigrated to build a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

A student of Jewish life

When he attended college in Cairo, he undertook a study of Jewish life there, associating with Jews and reading the works of Zionists such as Theodor Herzl.

But by 1946 he had become a Palestinian nationalist and was procuring weapons in Egypt to be smuggled into Palestine in the Arab cause.

When the first Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948, reports say that Arafat slipped into Palestine to fight the Israelis.

He later claimed, however, that he and his compatriots were disarmed and turned back by other Arabs who did not want the help of Palestinian irregulars. After Israel won the war, Palestinians suffered a significant humiliation when the 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were left without a state of their own, despite a provision in a 1947 U.N. agreement to create one.

In the mid-1950s, Arafat and several Palestinian Arab associates formed a movement that became known as Fatah, an organization dedicated to reclaiming Palestine for the Palestinians. This and other groups eventually operated under the PLO, an umbrella organization formed in 1964.

Running Fatah became Arafat's full-time occupation, and by 1965 the organization was launching guerrilla raids and terrorist attacks into Israel.

But in the Six Day War of 1967, Israel emerged victorious and captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

King Hussein sends PLO packing

Arafat and Fatah received international publicity in 1968 when they inflicted a significant defeat on Israeli troops who entered Jordan.

The PLO's activities troubled Jordan's King Hussein, however, and after a civil war in 1971, he forced the Palestinians to leave Jordan. Ironically, it was two visits from an ailing King Hussein to the Wye River negotiations that encouraged Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach an agreement.

After leaving Jordan, the PLO set up bases in Lebanon and continued to carry out raids against Israel. Arafat, however, came to be regarded as a villain for his suspected involvement in the murder of Israeli athletes by the Black September Arab terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

But in 1974, he was allowed to address the United Nations, and that organization voted to give the PLO observer status.

Eight years later, in June 1982, Israel retaliated for a series of PLO terrorist raids by launching an all-out counterattack that destroyed PLO headquarters in Beirut.

Arafat re-established new headquarters in Tunisia and gave his organization's support to Palestinians in the West Bank and other occupied territories who began to riot against Israel.

Shakes hands with Rabin

In 1988, Arafat proclaimed an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and told the United Nations that the PLO renounced terrorism once and for all. He said the PLO supported the right of all parties to live in peace -- Israel included.

By the year's end, 70 countries had recognized the PLO, but its credibility was undermined in 1990 by its support for Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

In the same year, however, the PLO officially recognized Israel, and in 1993, Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo peace accords that established a framework for an agreement aimed at bringing peace to the region.

The accords called for the gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and West Bank and the creation of the Palestinian Authority as the Palestinian governing body in the occupied territories.

The Palestinian Authority's legislative body, the 88-seat Palestinian Council, was elected in January 1996, and Arafat won a landslide victory as its president.

Co-winner of Nobel Peace Prize

Rabin and Arafat were rewarded for their efforts by being named co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Arafat has been criticized -- by Israel and by others -- for a lack of control over extremist Palestinians. But Arafat has vowed to crack down, and the Wye River agreement provides a structure for doing so.

No doubt his resolve, and the agreement itself, will be tested in a region where violence has been a primary means of expression.

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