one of the most pivotal figures in the decades-long struggle between
Israel and the Palestinians, which has dominated much of U.S.
foreign and world policy since the 1950s, died Nov. 11, 2004,
in a military hospital near Paris. He was 75.
a controversial and polarizing leader -- recognized the world
over by his red and white keffiyah headdress -- wielded immeasurable
influence in the Middle East. He was at once hailed as a martyr
by his Palestinian constituents and ostracized by Israel as an
instigator and terrorist.
years, Arafat, a co-signer with late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, spent his days in his compound
in the West Bank town of Ramallah, isolated and barred from peace
negotiations by his lifelong foe, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
In 2003, Sharon
and the Bush administration chose to end negotiations with Arafat,
excluding him from talks because of the Palestinian leader's perceived
failure to crack down on militant Islamic groups like Hezbollah
and Islamic Jihad.
to international pressure in March of that year and appointed
the U.S.-backed Mahmoud Abbas as the new prime minister in an
effort to reform the Palestinian government. However, an ensuing
power struggle between the two men over Arafat's refusal to yield
control of Palestinian security forces to an Abbas-chosen security
director. The struggle led to Abbas' resignation after only four
months as prime minister.
He continued to battle internally with fellow Palestinian leaders,
grudgingly yielding to Abbas' successor Ahmed Qurei, with whom
he fought over the creation of a new Palestinian cabinet.
being banned from talks and largely trapped in his Ramallah compound,
Arafat continued to influence Palestinian public, many of whom
still hailed the frail leader as a hero. He held office from amidst
the rubble of his destroyed compound -- a once-sprawling block
of residential buildings and offices destroyed by a series of
Israeli raids in 2002.
At an August
2003 rally, a withered Arafat appeared at the balcony of his home
as thousands of marchers shouted their support and carried life-size
roots in conflict
Arafat al Qudwa al-Hussein was born, according to his birth certificate,
in 1929 in Cairo, Egypt, though he insisted throughout his life
that his birthplace was Jerusalem. When he was 4, Arafat's mother
died and his father, a Palestinian merchant, sent him to live
with his uncle in Jerusalem.
As a teenager,
Arafat developed an interest in the Palestinian cause. During
the Arab-Israeli war in the late 1940s, he helped smuggle arms
into Palestine to aid the Arab countries. After the war, Arafat
enrolled at what is now the University of Cairo in Egypt, where
he studied civil engineering. During that time, he led the Palestinian
Student League and argued for the creation of a Palestinian state.
His dream eluded him.
In the 1950s
Arafat was drafted into the Egyptian army, where he fought in
the 1956 Suez Campaign, a dispute between Israel and Egypt over
the Suez Canal. After leaving the army, Arafat founded the militant
group Al Fatah, a group responsible for terrorist attacks in Israel
throughout the 1960s. In 1969, after the second Arab-Israeli War,
Arab nations tapped Arafat to head their recently formed Palestinian
Liberation Organization. It was as PLO chairman that Arafat made
a true name for himself.
in Jordan, PLO factions carried out terrorist attacks in Europe
and the Middle East. As the PLO's leader, Arafat did not condemn
the various attacks. In 1971 Jordan's King Hussein banned the
organization from his country. Lebanon became the group's new
In 1974, the
United Nations officially recognized the PLO and gave Arafat permission
to address member nations, the first head of a non-government
ever to address the body. Arafat gave his speech wearing military
garb and a gun holster. "Today I have come bearing an olive
branch and a freedom fighter's gun," he said. "Do not
let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the
olive branch fall from my hand."
Israelis destroyed the PLO's headquarters in Beirut during the
1982 invasion of Lebanon, Arafat again moved the organization,
this time to Tunisia. From there, he supported the 1987 Intifada,
the first widespread uprising of Palestinians against Israeli
rule. By its end in 1993 the Intifada had left over 1,000 people
many acts of terrorism Arafat has been associated with are the
1973 murders of two U.S. ambassadors in Sudan and the deadly 1985
hijacking of the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro. Arafat
denied involvement in both cases.
In 1988, after
years of war and violence, Arafat shifted his efforts to the diplomatic
arena, declaring that the PLO would renounce violence and establish
an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. The organization
officially agreed to recognize Israel and its right to live in
later, guided by the United States and other international leaders,
Arafat met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign
Minister Shimon Peres for secret peace negotiations in Norway.
The three men signed the historic Oslo peace accords in September
of that year. Under the agreement, Arafat returned to the West
Bank in the summer of 1994. That same year, Arafat, Rabin and
Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end
For his part
in the negotiations, Rabin, a noted war hero, was shot and killed
by an Israeli extremist less than two years later. Arafat, who
was allowed to visit Rabin's grieving widow after the assassination
in a show of solidarity, would become the first president of the
PLO in charge of the West Bank and Gaza.
In 2003 the
BBC interviewed Zakariya Zubaydi, the young leader of the militant
Palestinian group al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. During the interview,
Zubaydi produced a black-and-white picture taken in the 1960s
of a young Arafat carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. According to
the BBC, Zubaydi said the picture was of his hero. He called Arafat
an honest man who shared the pain of the Palestinian people and
who was being persecuted by the Israelis because he would not
give in to them.
Arafat never saw his dream of an independent Palestinian state
realized, the people for whom he'd fought for more than 60 years
remained faithful followers until his death. When Israel threatened
to deport Arafat in 2003, and when a member of the Israeli cabinet
made public mention of possibly assassinating Arafat, Palestinian
protesters rallied outside Arafat's home, vowing to die to protect
The last time
Arafat made a public appearance was Aug. 18, 2004, when he made
a keynote address to the Palestinian Legislative Council at his
after an October 2003 heart attack and rumored to be suffering
from Parkinson's disease, the leader, who in his life survived
a plane crash, death threats, military raids and war, remained
politically active until his death.
until 1990, Arafat leaves behind his wife Suha and their daughter
Zahwa, both living in Paris.
Compiled for the Online NewsHour by Kristina Nwazota