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Arafat devoted his life to cause
November 11, 2004
A mix of peace efforts, violence marked quest for Palestinian state
By JUDITH MILLER
New York Times

YASSER ARAFAT
Video Video:
Palestinian leader dead at 75 11/11
Aides rush to Arafat's bedside 11/10
Arafat slips into deep coma 11/9
Palestinians officials hope to visit Arafat 11/8
Doctors fight to keep Arafat alive 11/5
Palestinian officials deny Arafat in coma 11/4
Arafat takes serious turn for worse 11/3
Leukemia ruled out 10/30
Doctors discuss Arafat's health 10/28
Audio Audio:
This Palestinian worries what's ahead 11/4
Multimedia:
The life of Arafat
A look at Hamas
Palestinian Authority
Maps
National profile
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U.N. Occupied Territories
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Yasser Arafat, who died this morning in a military hospital in France, was the wily father and leader of the Palestinians who for almost 40 years symbolized his people's longing for a distinct political identity and independent state. He was 75.

No other individual so embodied the Palestinians' plight: their dispersal, their statelessness, their hunger for a return to a homeland lost to Israel. Yet Arafat's luster and reputation faded the closer he came to achieving his dream of statehood. A brilliant navigator of political currents in opposition, he proved inept in power, a tactician rather than a strategist, and a leader who rejected crucial opportunities to achieve his declared goal.

At the end of his life, Arafat governed Palestinians from an almost three-year confinement by Israel to his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank. While many Palestinians continued to revere him, many others came to see him as undemocratic and see his administration as corrupt.

A co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for Arafat's agreement to work toward peaceful coexistence with Israel, Arafat began his long political career with high-profile acts of anti-Israel terrorism.

At the beginning, in the 1960s, Arafat pioneered what became known as "television terrorism" air piracy and innovative forms of mayhem staged for maximum propaganda value.

Among the more spectacular deeds Arafat ordered was the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 2000, after rejecting a land-for-peace deal from Israel that he considered insufficient, Arafat presided over the Palestinians as they waged a mix of guerrilla warfare and terror against Israeli troops and civilians that has lasted four years.

Indeed, shifting between peace talks and acts of violence was the defining feature of his political life. From his initial appeal for a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly in 1974, wearing a holster and waving an olive branch, to his tentative pledge of peace with Israel in 1993 while subsequently permitting suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, he pursued his goals relentlessly.

An often devious political quick-change artist, Arafat assumed many poses.

But the image that endures and the one he clearly relished was that of the Arab fighter, the grizzled, scruffy-bearded guerrilla in olive-green military fatigues and his trademark checkered head scarf, carefully folded in the shape of what was once Palestine.

Arafat seemed at his best when under siege. Surrounded in the spring of 2002 by Israeli tanks in two rooms of his compound in Ramallah, he appeared to revel in his victimization as he invited "martyrs by the millions" to join his attack on Israel.

Arafat repeatedly rejected recognition of Israel, insisted on armed struggle and terror campaigns, and opted for diplomacy only after his disastrous embrace of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 left his movement politically disgraced and financially bankrupt, with neither power nor leverage.

In September 1993, Arafat achieved world acclaim by signing a limited peace treaty with Israel, a declaration of principles that provided for mutual recognition and outlined a transition to Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories that Israel had controlled since its decisive victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

The culmination of secret negotiations in Oslo, the agreement was blessed by President Clinton and sealed with a stunning handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn.

But in 2000, Arafat walked away from a proffered settlement based on the Oslo accords proposed by Prime Minister Ehud Barak the most forthcoming compromises Israel had ever suggested.

After the talks collapsed, Arafat used an inflammatory visit by Ariel Sharon of Israel to the Jerusalem plaza outside Al Aqsa Mosque in September 2000 to bless a terror campaign.

That campaign has killed more than 900 Israelis and almost 3,000 Palestinians, and plunged his fragile Palestinian Authority into armed conflict.

Arafat's insistence on the right of return, coupled with his refusal to condemn suicide bombings, led most Israelis and many U.S. officials to conclude that Arafat, like the more militant Islamic groups that sought to replace him, was unwilling to accept Israel's existence.

Arafat leaves an ambiguous legacy.

To his credit, he succeeded in creating not only a coherent national movement, led by the Palestine Liberation Organization, but also the very consciousness that made it possible.

A past master of public relations, Arafat made the world aware of Palestine as a distinct entity.

And he helped persuade Palestinians, who now number 5 million to 6 million, to think of themselves as a people with a right to sovereignty.

"He put the Palestinian cause on the map and mobilized behind his leadership the broadest cross-section imaginable of Palestinians," said Khalil E. Jahshan, an Arab-American political activist who knew him well for more than a decade.


Source: New York Times


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