Arafat And Plo Essay, Research Paper
“Yasser Arafat and the Official Recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization”
“We must remember that the main enemy of the Palestinian people, now and forever, is Israel. This is a truth that must never leave our minds.”
— Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Freih Abu Middein, speaking at Al Azhar University in Gaza. (Al-Nahar, 11 April 1995; The Jerusalem Post, 17 April 1995)
As expressed in the above quote, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 sparked much resentment from nearby Arab states, which immediately waged war against the new nation. As a result, a severe refugee problem was created among the Palestinians that had been living in and near the territories that were taken over by Israel. An estimated 726,000 Palestinians were displaced; some were forced to other Arab states in the Middle East, while others were confined to refugee camps in Israel. In the mid-1950s, Arafat and several Palestinian Arab associates formed a movement known as Fatah, dedicated to “reclaiming Palestine for the Palestinians.” It quickly became the largest and most popular Palestinian organization mostly due to the fact that it did not define a distinct ideology, and kept a rather vague and unspecified platform in order to avoid too close an identification with any one particular Arab country. Fatah and other splinter sects eventually operated under an umbrella organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization, formed in 1964. Arafat, as a member of the Husseini family, had a niche of credibility, an advantage that allowed him to quickly generate a loyal following (Bickerton 147). Running Fatah became Arafat’s full-time occupation, and by 1965 the organization was launching guerrilla raids and terrorist attacks into Israel.
The PLO’s Tumultuous Beginning
As Israel emerged victorious in the Six-Day War of 1967, and captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took on a heightened tension. Following the war, Arafat moved the headquarters of the PLO to Jordan. Terrorist activity was conducted by fundamentalist splinter groups within the PLO, such as the Liberation for Palestine (PFLP), the Palestine Popular Struggle Front, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), in an attempt to draw attention to the Palestinian cause. In 1968 Arafat and the Fatah got international publicity when they inflicted a significant defeat on Israeli troops who entered Jordan. These PLO’s activities increasingly troubled Jordan’s King Hussein because it prevented him from considering any negotiated settlement with Israel. Thus, in 1971 he expelled the Palestinians fighters from Jordan. They relocated and set up bases in Lebanon and continued its attacks against Israeli targets until 1982.
The bleakest period for Arafat and the PLO came in June 1982 when Israel launched an all-out counterattack, destroying the PLO headquarters in Beirut and forcing the humiliated PLO to disperse to various Arab nations outside of Lebanon. Arafat re-established PLO headquarters in Tunisia and used the depressed state of Palestinians to draw media attention. Soon, world eyes were drawn away from the terrorist-inclined PLO toward the rioting by Palestinians in the West Bank and their plight in the Israeli-occupied territories. The PLO supported the West Bank Palestinians, and the international sympathy they aroused thrust the PLO back into prominence.
Recognition of the PLO
Under Arafat’s leadership, the PLO received official recognition from many nations. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1974 and the PLO was proclaimed “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” (Bickerton 191) by the Arab states at the Rabat Summit. In a speech by Yasser Arafat, he proclaimed, “With the utmost dignity and the most admirable revolutionary spirit, our Palestinian people had not lost its spirit in Israeli prisons and concentration camps or when faced with all forms of harassment and intimidation” (November 13, 1974). Thus, the Palestinians still remained committed to the “dissolution” of Israel, but they were also divided over how to ultimately achieve this outcome.
Pressured by a Palestinian youth uprising known as the intifada, in the occupied territories in 1987, and by Jordan’s formal severing of its links to the West Bank in 1988, Arafat formally declared a Palestinian state in 1988, and conditionally accepted UN Resolution 242, which implicitly recognizes Israel. Arafat declared before the United Nations that the PLO renounced terrorism once and for all, and supported the right of all parties to live in peace — Israel included. By the year’s end some 70 countries had recognized the PLO. In all respects it functions as a government, except that it has no territory to govern.
However, this diplomatic victory was undermined when Arafat backed Iraq in the Persian Gulf War causing the PLO to lose support among Arab states. Finding itself increasingly isolated and short of funds in the face of Israel’s great military superiority, the PLO under Arafat agreed to negotiate with Israel in 1993. The result was an Israeli-Palestinian accord, signed in Washington on Sept. 13, 1993, which provided for the gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. For the first time, Israel recognized the PLO and granted self-rule to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. Rabin and Arafat shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for their efforts in bringing peace. The Palestinian Authority (a Palestinian governing body in the occupied territories), an 88-seat Palestinian Council, was created under the 1993 peace agreement and held elections in 1996. Arafat captured 88% of the vote for the Palestinian presidency in the January 1996 Palestinian elections, in which his Fatah wing of the PLO won about 75% of the seats in the new Palestinian legislative council (CNN Interactive). The 1996 election, however, was officially boycotted by Hamas and other extremist groups, who rejected any accommodation with Israel. Arafat was put in the position of having to satisfy the Israeli demands to do all he can to contain terrorist activities; while, at the same time, try to convince followers of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad that he could act as a leader of all segments of the Palestinian population (Bickerman 287).
Arafat has been criticized by Israel and others for a lack of control over extremist Palestinians such as Hamas. He has vowed to crack down, and repeatedly has expressed sorrow over Hamas’ terrorist acts. Yet, as he continually tries to appear to have a balance his political stance, he still remains the champion of Palestinian rights in their quest for a homeland, and continues to make comments that incite violent overtones in his people, exemplified by the following: “We sacrifice our blood and ourselves for Palestine!”(A response chanted by the Palestinian crowd to Arafat’s above call for war: Arutz-7 Radio, 23 October 1996). In conclusion, Yasser Arafat plays a dual role: to appeal to the divided Palestinian citizens and to attempt peace with Israel. But, his deep-rooted ideological pursuit for Palestinian nationalism will not be suppressed, and thus makes peace a very complex process. This quote expresses his sentiment, “When we stopped the Intifada we did not stop the Jihad to establish Palestine with Jerusalem as our capital…. We know only one word: Jihad, Jihad, Jihad…. We are at conflict with the Zionist movement….”(Arafat, in a speech at the Dehaishe refugee camp near Bethlehem, 22 October 1996 )
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