November 9, 2004 | Memo

Backgrounder: Yasser Arafat

Jonathan L. Snow                                                                                                                                                                                     November 9, 2004

Key Facts

  • Arafat has often claimed that he was born in Jerusalem, though his birth certificate indicates that his actual place of birth was Cairo, Egypt in 1929.  He moved to live with his uncle in Jerusalem after the death of his mother in 1933.
  • In the late 1950’s, Arafat helped found the Fatah movement.  Beginning as early as 1965, Fatah launched various terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.  Fatah is Arabic for “conquest” and the name refers to the Islamic idea that once a land has been under Muslim control, it can never return to non-Muslim rule.
  • In 1969, Arafat was elected chairman of the PLO, an umbrella organization of various Palestinian groups of which Fatah was the largest.  Terrorist attacks by various PLO groups became a key element of the Palestinian national movement under Arafat’s leadership (see Terrorism below).
  • In 1970, the PLO was driven from Jordan due to its terrorist activities directed against Israel and its divisive effect on the Jordanian state.  The PLO relocated to Lebanon where it was based until 1982 when it was forced to move to Tunisia.
  • In 1974, Arafat, wearing a gun holster on his hip, addressed the United Nations General Assembly.  This speech indicated an acceptance by the world body that the PLO was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, while Arafat continued to make clear that he believed violence was the path to a Palestinian state.
  • In 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed between the PLO and the Israelis, committing Arafat and the PLO to stop incitement and terrorism in exchange for Palestinian control over some disputed territory in the West Bank and Gaza.  Arafat and the PLO moved from exile in Tunis into the West Bank and Gaza.
  • In July 2000, Arafat rejected the final peace settlement offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which included Palestinian control over the vast majority of the territories and a capital in East Jerusalem.  In September 2000, the second “intifada” was launched, a terrorist campaign primarily targeting Israeli civilians.



  • 60 Minutes reported in November, 2003 that Arafat diverted nearly $1 billion in public funds into a secret portfolio.
  • U.S. officials estimate Arafat’s personal nest egg at between $1 billion and $3 billion.  Other estimates have been even higher.
  • Arafat’s wife, Suha, according to Israeli officials, gets $100,000 a month from the Palestinian budget.  She lives lavishly in Paris.



  • Arafat has supported terrorism throughout his career.  Fatah and other PLO groups began using terrorism as a tactic in 1965. Under Arafat’s leadership, groups within the PLO transformed the face of modern terrorism.  Some terrorist attacks perpetrated by PLO-member groups include:

·          SwissAir flight 330 was bombed in mid-flight by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in February 1970.  47 people were killed.

·          September 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were killed at the Munich Olympics by the Black September subgroup of the PLO.

·          March 1973, Black September terrorists took over the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, executing two American officials (U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and Charge d’ Affairs George Curtis Moore) and a Belgian official.  According to a former NSA analyst, the NSA has recordings of Arafat personally ordering the operation and the murder of the diplomats.  These tapes have never been released or authenticated, but there is no doubt that Arafat pulled the strings behind Black September.

·          In 1974, members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the third largest PLO group, attacked a school in Ma’alot, killing 27 people and wounding 134 others, mostly students.

·          October 1985, terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front, part of the PLO, hijacked the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro and executed wheelchair-bound American Leon Klinghoffer.

·          Since the launch of the second intifada in September 2000, Arafat-linked groups have been responsible for scores of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians.  Documents captured by the Israelis show that Arafat and his deputies personally authorized payments to suicide terrorists.


Political Record in the Middle East

  • Arafat has been a destabilizing force against every government that has hosted him.

·          After the 1967 war, the PLO set up bases in Jordan from which it launched attacks against Israel.  The actions of the PLO caused discord amongst the different groups in Jordan, subverting the government and leading King Hussein to decide that he had to break the power of the PLO or risk losing his kingdom to Arafat.  He chose to attack Arafat’s forces and Palestinian refugee camps, resulting in “Black September” in 1970.   After that, the PLO relocated to Lebanon, where it already had a powerbase thanks to the Cairo Agreement signed in 1969, an agreement that paved the way for the Lebanese civil war.

·          Arafat created a new terrorist base in Lebanon from which he continued to launch attacks against Israel.  Israel eventually responded in 1982 with an invasion of Lebanon, forcing the PLO to relocate once again to Tunis.

  • Arafat and the PLO have routinely sided with America’s enemies, for example:

·          Arafat backed Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

·          Arafat backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, one of the only leaders in the world to do so.  He continued to work with Saddam, including providing intelligence to the Iraqi dictator about Iraqi opposition groups, until Saddam was removed from power by Coalition forces.


Broken Commitments

  • Arafat has consistently failed to meet his commitments under various peace plans and agreements.
  • Under the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements, Arafat agreed to stop engaging in terrorism and incitement.  Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated that he never met this commitment.
  • The Palestinian legal and educational systems have not been reformed, nor have true democratic institutions been created.
  • Arafat has made only cosmetic changes to the system of dispensing Palestinian Authority funds, despite commitments to international organizations to make the system transparent.
  • He has failed to reform the security apparatus, insisting on retaining almost complete control over the various factions, which he has purposely fractured to limit their effectiveness.