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05/16/2002

Arafat and the PLO, Part I

I thought we would take a dispassionate look at the formation of
the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the arrival of
Yasser Arafat (that is, as dispassionate as any discussion of
Arafat can be).

Following the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 (May 18,
incidentally), the Arab states, eventually led by Egypt’s Gamal
Abdel Nasser (president from 1956-70), discouraged any active
participation in the political process by the Palestinian people. In
a nutshell, no one wanted them, either. Nasser and the Arab
League did, however, sponsor the PLO in 1964, under the
leadership of its first chairman, Ahmad Shuqayri.

The PLO had as its goal the establishment of a Palestinian state
and the destruction of Israel, but, needing help from the other
Arab nations, it immediately began pressuring them, particularly
Jordan’s King Hussein.

Hussein then helped precipitate the disastrous Six-Day War in
1967, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and
Golan Heights, as Egypt and Syria licked their wounds alongside
Jordan. Israel then announced it was going to keep the territory
to better defend itself.

The war produced waves of Palestinian refugees throughout the
region, with some 1.4 million dispersed into Jordan, Lebanon,
Syria and Egypt, while roughly an equal amount remained in
Israel and the new Israeli-occupied territories. The Israelis then
began to establish settlements and anger grew on the Palestinian
side, as pressure on the PLO mounted to take a more active role
in pressing the battle for independence and recognition. As
historian Bernard Lewis notes, following ’67, the PLO was
transformed, “as the advancing guerrilla replaced the retreating
soldier as the symbol of Arab opposition to Israel.”

By 1969, a new movement took over control of the PLO, Fatah
(which means “conflict”), and on January 3 a new chairman
emerged, Yasser Arafat. Arafat and Fatah were dedicated to
armed struggle in the desired liberation of historic Palestine.

Arafat, 40 years old, had grown up in Gaza and was educated as
an engineer in Cairo. Using the models of both Algeria and
Vietnam, he saw how guerrilla-led revolutions could find
success.

Meanwhile, following the ’67 war, Egypt and Israel had been
fighting what would be called the War of Attrition. Egypt would
launch artillery shells into Israeli territory and Israel would
retaliate. Finally, in August 1970, the two (along with Jordan)
agreed to a cease-fire, but not before 593 Israeli soldiers and 127
civilians had been killed, with Egyptian casualties roughly twice
these figures.

1970, however, also represented a turning point for the worse
when it came to Arafat’s leadership of the PLO, as the chairman
pursued his terrorist agenda from the safety of Jordan, where the
PLO had been forced to flee after Israel gained control of Gaza.

For example, in February of that year, Palestinian terrorists were
responsible for the crash of a Swiss airliner near Zurich that
killed 47 (including 17 Israelis). The same day 7 elderly Jews
were killed at an old people’s home in Munich. Then on May
22, 8 Israeli children between the ages of 6 and 9 were killed
when a shell hit their bus.

Of course as Arafat intensified his attacks, both in Israel and
abroad, Jordan’s King Hussein feared Israeli retaliation for
“harboring” the PLO and Fatah. The refugees that had swamped
his country (with Palestinians, overall, now representing about
half the nation’s population) set up camps that were breeding
grounds for hatred against not only Israel, but Jordan as well.
Just as in 1967, the Palestinians felt abandoned by the Arab
League in their cause for independence.

Fatah operated like a second government, wearing their own
uniforms, collecting their own taxes and “poaching” youths from
Hussein’s own army. [David Reynolds] The Palestinians openly
called for the destruction of Jordan’s monarchy and several
assassination attempts were launched against the King, who
miraculously survived.

Following the August ’70 cease-fire, Syria denounced the move,
leading to massive demonstrations by Palestinians in Jordan.
Then on September 6, George Habash’s Popular Front hijacked 3
international airliners and brought them to an isolated desert
airstrip in Jordan, effectively out of the control of King Hussein.
With some 300 passengers involved, including many Americans
and Israelis, the incident carried worldwide significance. But
soon Switzerland, Britain and West Germany were releasing
convicted Palestinian terrorists held in their prisons, the
passengers were released, and then the Popular Front blew up the
airplanes.

King Hussein, powerless to really do anything in this instance,
was humiliated, and the Palestinians had crossed the line. On
September 15 he turned on the guerrillas and in ten days of
fighting, 2,000 militants were killed, along with hundreds of
refugees. Syria, thinking it saw an opening, sent an armored
column to aid the PLO, but Hussein, with implicit U.S. backing,
met the Syrian challenge and then the Soviets convinced Syria to
withdraw.

This became known as “Black September,” and once again the
PLO saw that it couldn’t rely on the Arab states for protection,
let alone its fight for independence. The month itself was also
significant for two other reasons. Egypt’s Nasser would die of a
heart attack, undoubtedly brought on by his efforts to defuse the
crisis, while in Syria, defense minister Hafez al-Assad, rose to
power in a bloodless coup.

Arafat and the PLO now moved to Lebanon, where they
continued their campaign of terror. By the end of 1971, Israeli
losses totaled 120 citizens and 183 soldiers killed in PLO
operations since 1967. During this same period, Israeli troops
had killed some 1,873 infiltrators. [Martin Gilbert]

Unfortunately, this was just the beginning. We continue next
week.

Sources:

David Reynolds, “One World Divisible”
Martin Gilbert, “History of the 20th Century”
Bernard Lewis, “The Middle East”
J.M. Roberts, “Twentieth Century”

Brian Trumbore


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05/16/2002

Arafat and the PLO, Part I

I thought we would take a dispassionate look at the formation of
the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the arrival of
Yasser Arafat (that is, as dispassionate as any discussion of
Arafat can be).

Following the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 (May 18,
incidentally), the Arab states, eventually led by Egypt’s Gamal
Abdel Nasser (president from 1956-70), discouraged any active
participation in the political process by the Palestinian people. In
a nutshell, no one wanted them, either. Nasser and the Arab
League did, however, sponsor the PLO in 1964, under the
leadership of its first chairman, Ahmad Shuqayri.

The PLO had as its goal the establishment of a Palestinian state
and the destruction of Israel, but, needing help from the other
Arab nations, it immediately began pressuring them, particularly
Jordan’s King Hussein.

Hussein then helped precipitate the disastrous Six-Day War in
1967, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and
Golan Heights, as Egypt and Syria licked their wounds alongside
Jordan. Israel then announced it was going to keep the territory
to better defend itself.

The war produced waves of Palestinian refugees throughout the
region, with some 1.4 million dispersed into Jordan, Lebanon,
Syria and Egypt, while roughly an equal amount remained in
Israel and the new Israeli-occupied territories. The Israelis then
began to establish settlements and anger grew on the Palestinian
side, as pressure on the PLO mounted to take a more active role
in pressing the battle for independence and recognition. As
historian Bernard Lewis notes, following ’67, the PLO was
transformed, “as the advancing guerrilla replaced the retreating
soldier as the symbol of Arab opposition to Israel.”

By 1969, a new movement took over control of the PLO, Fatah
(which means “conflict”), and on January 3 a new chairman
emerged, Yasser Arafat. Arafat and Fatah were dedicated to
armed struggle in the desired liberation of historic Palestine.

Arafat, 40 years old, had grown up in Gaza and was educated as
an engineer in Cairo. Using the models of both Algeria and
Vietnam, he saw how guerrilla-led revolutions could find
success.

Meanwhile, following the ’67 war, Egypt and Israel had been
fighting what would be called the War of Attrition. Egypt would
launch artillery shells into Israeli territory and Israel would
retaliate. Finally, in August 1970, the two (along with Jordan)
agreed to a cease-fire, but not before 593 Israeli soldiers and 127
civilians had been killed, with Egyptian casualties roughly twice
these figures.

1970, however, also represented a turning point for the worse
when it came to Arafat’s leadership of the PLO, as the chairman
pursued his terrorist agenda from the safety of Jordan, where the
PLO had been forced to flee after Israel gained control of Gaza.

For example, in February of that year, Palestinian terrorists were
responsible for the crash of a Swiss airliner near Zurich that
killed 47 (including 17 Israelis). The same day 7 elderly Jews
were killed at an old people’s home in Munich. Then on May
22, 8 Israeli children between the ages of 6 and 9 were killed
when a shell hit their bus.

Of course as Arafat intensified his attacks, both in Israel and
abroad, Jordan’s King Hussein feared Israeli retaliation for
“harboring” the PLO and Fatah. The refugees that had swamped
his country (with Palestinians, overall, now representing about
half the nation’s population) set up camps that were breeding
grounds for hatred against not only Israel, but Jordan as well.
Just as in 1967, the Palestinians felt abandoned by the Arab
League in their cause for independence.

Fatah operated like a second government, wearing their own
uniforms, collecting their own taxes and “poaching” youths from
Hussein’s own army. [David Reynolds] The Palestinians openly
called for the destruction of Jordan’s monarchy and several
assassination attempts were launched against the King, who
miraculously survived.

Following the August ’70 cease-fire, Syria denounced the move,
leading to massive demonstrations by Palestinians in Jordan.
Then on September 6, George Habash’s Popular Front hijacked 3
international airliners and brought them to an isolated desert
airstrip in Jordan, effectively out of the control of King Hussein.
With some 300 passengers involved, including many Americans
and Israelis, the incident carried worldwide significance. But
soon Switzerland, Britain and West Germany were releasing
convicted Palestinian terrorists held in their prisons, the
passengers were released, and then the Popular Front blew up the
airplanes.

King Hussein, powerless to really do anything in this instance,
was humiliated, and the Palestinians had crossed the line. On
September 15 he turned on the guerrillas and in ten days of
fighting, 2,000 militants were killed, along with hundreds of
refugees. Syria, thinking it saw an opening, sent an armored
column to aid the PLO, but Hussein, with implicit U.S. backing,
met the Syrian challenge and then the Soviets convinced Syria to
withdraw.

This became known as “Black September,” and once again the
PLO saw that it couldn’t rely on the Arab states for protection,
let alone its fight for independence. The month itself was also
significant for two other reasons. Egypt’s Nasser would die of a
heart attack, undoubtedly brought on by his efforts to defuse the
crisis, while in Syria, defense minister Hafez al-Assad, rose to
power in a bloodless coup.

Arafat and the PLO now moved to Lebanon, where they
continued their campaign of terror. By the end of 1971, Israeli
losses totaled 120 citizens and 183 soldiers killed in PLO
operations since 1967. During this same period, Israeli troops
had killed some 1,873 infiltrators. [Martin Gilbert]

Unfortunately, this was just the beginning. We continue next
week.

Sources:

David Reynolds, “One World Divisible”
Martin Gilbert, “History of the 20th Century”
Bernard Lewis, “The Middle East”
J.M. Roberts, “Twentieth Century”

Brian Trumbore