Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography
Yasir Arafat stands as one of the most resilient, recognizable and controversial political figures of modern times. The object of unrelenting suspicion, steady admiration and endless speculation, Arafat has occupied the center stage of Middle East politics for almost four decades. Yasir Arafat is the most comprehensive political biography of this remarkable man.
Forged in a tumultuous era of competing traditionalism, radicalism, Arab nationalism, and Islamist forces, the Palestinian movement was almost entirely Arafat's creation, and he became its leader at an early age. Arafat took it through a dizzying series of crises and defeats, often of his own making, yet also ensured that it survived, grew, and gained influence. Disavowing terrorism repeatedly, he also practiced it constantly. Arafat's elusive behavior ensured that radical regimes saw in him a comrade in arms, while moderates backed him as a potential partner in peace.
After years of devotion to armed struggle, Arafat made a dramatic agreement with Israel that let him return to his claimed homeland and transformed him into a legitimized ruler. Yet at the moment of decision at the Camp David summit and afterward, when he could have achieved peace and a Palestinian state, he sacrificed the prize he had supposedly sought for the struggle he could not live without.
Richly populated with the main events and dominant leaders of the Middle East, this detailed and analytical account by Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin follows Arafat as he moves to Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and finally to Palestinian-ruled soil. It shows him as he rewrites his origins, experiments with guerrilla war, develops a doctrine of terrorism, fights endless diplomatic battles, and builds a movement, constantly juggling states, factions, and world leaders.
Whole generations and a half-dozen U.S. presidents have come and gone over the long course of Arafat's career. But Arafat has outlasted them all, spanning entire eras, with three constants always present: he has always survived, he has constantly seemed imperiled, and he has never achieved his goals. While there has been no substitute for Arafat, the authors conclude, Arafat has been no substitute for a leader who could make peace.
revolutionary leader, Arafat never tried to impose unity. He preferred decentralization verging on anarchy, an approach that made life for him easier in the short run but would also repeatedly lead him into disaster.41 One reason why this was a mistake was that it let smaller groups take stances and actions that were in conflict with Arafat's ostensible strategy. They favored the overthrow of moderate Arab governments as the necessary precondition for liberating Palestine. They favored
power while he could also disclaim any responsibility for it, despite the fact that he was the PLO's leader. Rather than demand that Arafat try to stop such acts, the British said they "bore no ill will towards Fatah" and thanked it for condemning the attacks even though Azhari said Arafat would do nothing to punish or stop terrorism by those subordinate to him.44 Britain's Foreign Ministry was even ready to do public relations work for Arafat. One official urged his government to encourage the
policies, money, and job appointments. Critics claimed that Arafat personally headed thirtythree different offices in the PLO and Fatah. Hani al-Hasan accused Arafat of insulating himself from experienced Fatah veterans to surround himself with young yes-men.23 But after the crash, at the ninetytwo-member PLO Central Council's May 7 meeting, Arafat won total support.24 The year's third key event was the June 1992 election of Yitzhak Rabin as Israel's prime minister. Rabin viewed his election as a
Israel's agreement, Arafat helped delay that state's coming into being. By emphasizing hopes and wishful thinking rather than working effectively on matters of substance like building institutions or a successful economy, Arafat repeatedly fostered friction and mistrust while failing to lay the necessary foundation for resolving the conflict.101 Palestine's independence day was also set by such considerations. The celebratory occasion did not take place in either May, when the PA began
the Palestinian Arabs into refugees. It was not a retreat of Arab forces that ensured a Jewish triumph in Haifa but the flight of the Palestinian population. This was why Palestinians faced humiliating ridicule for years in neighboring Arab states, where they were labeled as cowards who had lost their own country. Arafat attempted to rewrite history to shift the blame for the defeat onto Arab countries rather than accept that an equally significant cause was Palestinian actions.20 Arafat's