What did Yasser Arafat do in the 1970s and 1980s?
The PLO started its life with an active campaign of terror attacks, but made little progress toward their goal of eliminating Israel.In 1974 the PLO made a conscious decision to alter its focus from a purely terrorist nature into one that would include political-diplomatic elements, necessary for any meaningful progress in international forums, adopting the well-known “Phased Plan”. This created more unhappiness amongst some followers who felt that the PLO, while striking blows, was not truly making progress towards its mark.
But Arafat’s plan made him more acceptable to the world community and things began to change quickly for him. The mid-1970s saw the all-important recognition of the PLO by the Arab League at the Rabat Conference and, remarkably, by the United Nations. Arafat deftly manipulated the organization from one perceived by the Western public as barbaric, into an organization slowly being considered a movement with legitimate claims.
In 1982, the Israeli army chased Arafat and the PLO guerrillas all the way into Lebanon and bottled them up in Beirut. In a decision that radical Palestinians resented, Arafat agreed to come to the bargaining table, after a UN cease-fire allowed him to relocate to Tripoli, Libya. Peace talks with Israel ensued. Little came of these talks, and soon afterward, dissension within the ranks of the PLO became more pronounced and some of the moderate leaders were assassinated.
Yasser Arafat decided to turn his efforts to hijacking. He provided support for the hijacking of a major cruise ship, selecting the Achille Lauro, a move that ultimately did great damage to the reputation of the PLO. Together with operatives from the PLF, terrorists seized the vessel and took the entire ship hostage. In a cowardly and reprehensible act, members of the team shot to death a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger named Leon Klinghoffer, then dumped his body overboard. World response was swift, and condemning.
By 1988, Arafat had taken the diplomatic road one step further when he not only announced the right of the State of Israel to exist, but feinted a renouncement of terrorism as a means to accomplish a diplomatic end. The perceived commitment to these ideals caused Israel to finally agree to serious talks with the PLO, and finally to the Madrid Peace Conferance and the Oslo Accords.
Describing Arafat personally, in his memoir Red Horizons, Ion Mihai Pacepa, former head of Romanian intelligence, recalls that his own dossier on Arafat provided:
- …an incredible account of fanaticism … of tangled oriental political maneuvers, of lies, of embezzled PLO funds deposited in Swiss banks, and of homosexual relationships, beginning with his teacher when he was a teenager and ending with his current bodyguards. After reading that report, I felt a compulsion to take a shower whenever [I] had just shaken his hand.
Pacepa recalls the strategic advice that Ceausescu gave Arafat during Arafat’s visit to Bucharest in 1978:
- In the shadow of your government-in-exile, you can keep as many operational groups as you want, as long as they are not publicly connected with your name. They could mount endless operations all around the world, while your name and your ‘government’ would remain pristine and unspoiled, ready for negotiations and further recognition.
Arafat tries to distance himself from Hamas and its acknowledged terrorism. But intelligence analyst Christopher Story has written:
- Hamas (and its subdivisions) is and always has been an integral component of the umbrella organization known as the Palestine Liberation Organization, which reports directly to Moscow.
Hamas leader Sheikh Mahmoud Zahar has said of the PLO-Hamas relationship:
- Like the wings of a bird, they must work together.
Arafat has acknowledged this relationship in public speeches extolling suicide bombers — such as those who left the Machane Yehuda marketplace strewn with the bodies of innocent shoppers — as “martyrs.”