Yasser Arafat & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Yasser Arafat played a prominent role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
... Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Yasser Arafat played a key role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an involvement which began in his teenage years and continued until his death in November 2004. For decades, Arafat was “the embodiment of the Palestinian cause,” says the BBC and, although he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, during the four years leading up to his death Palestine and Israel were locked together in a cycle of shootings, bombings and suicide attacks known as the Second Intifada.

1 Early Involvement

Arafat’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in his teenage years. As a young man with a Palestinian background growing up in the Egyptian capital Cairo, Arafat helped to smuggle guns into Palestine. After World War I, Palestine became a British protectorate but after World War II and the Holocaust the region became the proposed location for a Jewish homeland. Arafat first smuggled guns to local Arabs to fight the British and the Jewish settlers and later took part in the conflict himself, fighting against Jewish settlers in Gaza during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

2 Al-Fatah

After the Arab defeat in 1949, Arafat returned to his engineering studies at university in Cairo. Following his graduation in 1956, he moved to Kuwait where he became formally active in politics. Two years later, Arafat co-founded Al-Fatah, an underground organization dedicated to resisting Israeli rule in the former Palestinian territories. Al-Fatah organized commando raids against Israeli targets and stressed the need for Palestinians to act for themselves in regaining their homeland. In 1964, Arafat moved from Kuwait to Jordan, becoming a full-time revolutionary.

3 Palestinian Liberation Organization

A key year in the Arab-Israeli conflict is 1967. Over six days in June, Israel attacked and occupied large areas of Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Al-Fatah had already aligned itself with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but in the aftermath of the Israeli attack, its leaders gained influence in the larger organization. In 1969, Arafat became PLO Chairman, developing its capacity to attack Israeli targets over almost two decades.

4 Nobel Peace Prize

By 1988, Arafat had decided to alter his tactics. In a speech before the United Nations, Arafat recognized the state of Israel and publicly supported the right of everyone in the region to live in peace. Ultimately this led to the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, which established a negotiating process to deal with the numerous difficult issues relating to land, resources and political rights. The following year, Arafat was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

Rita Kennedy is a writer and researcher based in the United Kingdom. She began writing in 2002 and her work has appeared in several academic journals including "Memory Studies," the "Journal of Historical Geography" and the "Local Historian." She holds a Ph.D. in history and an honours degree in geography from the University of Ulster.