In order to have a thorough understanding of the Palestinian problem, events in the early 20th century, prior to 1948 (Israeli independence) should be closely examined and understood. Many historians mark the first act which led to the Palestinian problem as the Balfour Declaration in 1917. There, it was announced that Britain shall support in the goals of Zionists, and therein strive to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” With Jewish spirits high all over the Jewish Diaspora, the third Aliyah (influx of Jews to Palestine) took place in 1919.
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The number of Jews gradually increased in Palestine, and by 1947, the 11% population of Jews increased to a healthy 33%. The immediate cause of the Palestinian problem is often dated to November 29th 1947, on which the UN announced that the British Mandate of Palestine would be divided into separate Arab and Jewish states. The decree sparked great outrage from Arab nations, but was a warmly welcomed decision from the Jews and other European and North American States. Two pinnacle wars then followed which would directly influence into the Palestinian problem. The Civil War first took place as an immediate reaction eleven days after the UN’s declaration. Jewish victory then led war lead to two events: the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May the 14th 1948 and the beginning of An-Nakabah, the Palestinian Exodus. In first phase of the Palestinian Exodus, 125,000 were evicted or fled from their homes, and were prevented from returning. The second war that followed was the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. In this war, Israel was to face a grand Arab coalition which denounced its independence. A decisive Israeli victory, and a disastrous Arab defeat increased the final number of the Palestinian exodus to a staggering 750 000 Palestinians. By the middle of the 20th century, State of Israel was firmly established upon the former Palestinian territories, and many Palestinian settlements were either depopulated or destroyed. Hence, the Palestinian problem was herein created; an issue of Palestinians, their state, homeland, refugees, and also Palestinian-Israeli co-existence in Palestine and the stance of Jerusalem, is all to exist until this very day.
Born on 24 August 1929, in Cairo, Egypt, Yasser Arafat was the son of Palestinian parent. During the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948, he went to Palestine to join the fighting. His role in the Palestinian problem begins early on in his political life when in 1958, Arafat, with a number of his Palestinian colleagues in Kuwait, corroborated and formed the militant group Fatah. The group was dedicated to liberate Palestine by Palestinians with a means of force. The idea was to eliminate Zionist Israel re-establish Palestinian homeland and resolve the Palestinian problem. Until this very day, Fatah’s main goal is, “complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.”
In the Six Day War, Fatah did play a small role in the fighting against the Israel. The humiliating Arab defeat further broke Arab morale especially that of the Palestinians who consequently lost trust in the united Arab resolution. But Fatah was to have its first main military encounter with Israel in the Battle of Karameh on March 21st 1968. With Fatah growing in stature, organised raid were conducted against Israeli settlements. Israel’s retaliation was to raid the Jordanian city of Karameh, a newly made stronghold for Fatah. Though the battle was a military victory for Israel, it was seen as a somewhat physiological victory for Fatah. Abdallah Frangi (a Palestinian leader at the time) labelled it “the political and military turning point in the Palestinian resistance, especially for Fatah.” Arab support was rallied behind the group, and Arafat was able to garner a number of Palestinian recruits for his group. Fatah was inducted into the PLO in 1967, and in 1969, Yasser Arafat became chairman of the PLO. Arafat transformed the organisation into becoming a strong independent organisation intended to make Palestinian appeals be heard by the world. He therein became the ultimate leader of the Palestinian resurgence. By 1970, Yasser Arafat was deeply engaging in his arms resolution of the Palestinian problem. Raids into Israeli territories were organised regularly and Fatah was became an increased threat to Israel. In Arafat’s and Fatah’s prime years of the 70’s, both the PLO and Mossad (The Israeli Intelligence Agency) engaged in terrorist style warfare against each other. The Mossad’s known for several key assassinations, such as that of Ghassan Kanafani , (writer and spokesman for the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine, considered the second largest group in the PLO after Fatah) and Dr Wadie Haddad (leader of the PFLP.) For the PLO, the Fatah group, Black September were one of the key groups engaging in such activities. One of the most famous works of Black September was the abduction and assassination of 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Though Arafat has never been proven to be part of the attacks, Israeli and American authorities often associate him to them.
A number of western sources agree that Yasser Arafat tried to resolve the Palestinian problem through a means of terrorism. It’s stated that he saw in terrorism, not of the horrific murders, but rather a means of gaining recognition for Palestine and Palestinian struggle. Barry and Judith Rubin, authors of Yasser Arafat: A Political Biography state, ” He had seen how it [terrorism] mobilized Palestinian and Arab support for the PLO; raised the Palestine issue’s international priority; prevented other Arab states from negotiating peace with Israel, and made many western leaders eager to appease him.” Often using the Fatah subgroup, Black September, there are claims that Arafat often approved operations and stemmed funds to them. The argument also states that Arafat consistently throughout his life would deny such acts, thereby having a “remarkable ability to escape responsibility for the terrorism he committed.” These views clearly classify Arafat’s armed approach in dealing with the Palestinian problem as acts of terrorism. They proclaim that Arafat, as a terrorist, used fear antic to drive his goal of dealing with the Palestinian struggle. The alternative view, in that Arafat was a freedom fighter is believed by many other historians and writers. It’s a stance expressed by one of the closest people to Arafat, Bassam Abu Sharif (Senior Advisor to Yasser Arafat.) In his book, Arafat and the Dream for Palestine, he states, “In my opinion, people in the west saw Arafat through the negative propaganda which rather painted Arafat as a terrorist, rather than a freedom fighter.” With the Palestinian problem ignored early on by many western countries, it indeed was Arafat who rather globalised the issue, made it a phenomenon everyone needed to solve. This is seen to make Arafat’s armed role in dealing with the Palestinian problem a pivotal one. These arguments also highlight Arafat as being the sole power in the Palestinian revival following the Six Day War, “It was in these disheartening circumstances that the Palestinian revival began. There was little doubt that Arafat’s was the decisive voice.” Also, those which Arafat commanded are perceived as freedom fighters by some, “Yasser Arafat, who had emerged as a significant figure in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, recruited young people to the resistance movement. In 1970, Palestinian freedom fighters took control of the Gaza Strip…” Yasser Arafat hence provided Palestinian revitalisation in the Palestinian problem, hereby making his armed role an extremely important one. As quoted by Stephen Howe, “Without the Arafat of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, there might well not have been a Palestinian national movement at all.”
Surely, Arafat’s armed solution is interpreted differently by different cultures and people. Arafat’s emergence was in bloody early days of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a time when sympathy of Palestinians and their struggle was widespread in the Muslim world whereas backing and support was provided to Israel by many western states. This makes the Palestinian debate a 2 sided debate, and consequently, an evaluation of Arafat is often affected by emotion and bias by the opposing parties. Arafat’s armed resolution of the Palestinian problem isn’t a clear cut issue of neither terrorism nor political fanaticism. Two issues must be understood to drive this point; firstly, Arafat’s activities as a militant rather than a terrorist. An analysis of Yasser Arafat’s activates prove that he rather was present and an active member in raids and attacks against the Israeli army and troops and rather not in the alleged terrorist attacks of the PLO. Also, since he never was proven to be a terrorist, it can never be claimed he was indeed a terrorist. Secondly, a distinction must be made between the activates of Arafat and those of his bodyguards and Fatah colleagues. Often, the actions of both are confused, and when an attack by Fatah insurgents is carried of, its often stated that Arafat himself was part of then. Its true that Yasser Arafat’s role as leader of Palestinian spurred some to extremism, but it must be understood, though his Fatah colleagues did engaged in terrorism, he didn’t. Yasser Arafat armed role in dealing with the Palestine problem should not be seen as of radicalism or extremism in thought and intent. Arafat’s armed struggle, though did not solve the issue, did in fact bring some results. His armed struggle brought a resurgence of the people of Palestine. With the united Arab response being habitually useless (by constant Arab defeat and loss to Israel,) only a Palestinian response seemed to solution. This but rather needed the revival of the Palestinian hope, which was severely crushed by the mid 1960 (especially with the loss of Jerusalem.) Though ludicrous it may sound, Palestinian revitalisation would not have occurred through peaceful means. The reason for this was that Palestinians where irritated and demoralised by the constant disappointment in the outcomes of Arab negotiations concerning their struggle. A symbol of an armed struggle would only then revitalise these frustrated Palestinians. With the creation of Fatah, (“…to liberate Palestine by Palestinians”) Arafat’s armed struggle brought this Palestinian resurgence. Arafat also united the Palestinian people, under his armed struggle, a strong step in dealing with the Palestinian problem. In essence, hadn’t this revitalisation occurred, the State of Palestine would not have been created, and future talks of peace and co-existence would not have occurred. But it should be clearly understood, that Arafat did not achieve his intended aim in his armed approach.
In 1974, the PLO executive committee including Arafat drew up The Ten Point Program. By many, is considered as the first peaceful initiative taken by Arafat to resolve the Palestinian Problem. It was a decree calling for Israel to return back “liberated” Palestinian lands. The declaration wasn’t one of change in direction, though was unique in that it did show Arafat to have a way of dealing with the problem through negotiations. The Ten Point Program was to be followed by more years of violence. After years of unrest with the rise of the terrorist group Hamas and notably the coming into being of First Intifada (which Arafat associated himself to); on the 13th and 14th of December 1988, Arafat announces a change of thought. He formally recognised the State of Israel, renounced terrorism, and revealed intentions of seeking peaceful negotiations in managing the Palestinian problem. A month earlier, the Palestinian National Council (led by Arafat) announces and proclaims The Palestinian Declaration of Independence. It was a new direction for Arafat in settling the Palestinian problem. In 1993 marks a historical event in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as the first direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders took place in Oslo, Norway. The talks were very secretive, with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabik with their top ministers negotiating in terms to co-exist peacefully. Issues such as the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian territories, Palestinian elections, economic cooperation and regional development were all discussed. Both parties agreed on the status of each, the rights of each other, and their intentions to co-exist. With the help of the Clinton government, on 13th of September 1993, the Oslo Accord was signed. It was thought to be the basis of all future talks between both. In 2000, continuing talks took place between Israel and Palestine at Camp David, in order to finalise the conditions of the Oslo Accord. The talks were to therein define the boundaries of Israel and Palestine. The status of Jerusalem (a key aspect of the Palestinian problem) was the hindrance point in the talks. In regards to the possession of Jerusalem, both parties were unable to agree on a compromise, hence making the Camp David talks a failure.
Arafat’s change in approach in dealing with the Palestinian approach (i.e. seeking peaceful measures) has often incurred various interpretations. One particular arguement is that Arafat changed his strategy of armed approach to a peaceful one in order to fool others and drive his own agenda of securing Palestinian homeland. “It was a typical Arafat style solution. By being so ambiguous about his methods and goals, Arafat could hope to convince the west that he was ready for peace and convince his own colleagues that he was determined to continue the struggle.” These views hereby make Arafat’s change in approach a somewhat deceitful trick that rather had true initiative. A different viewpoint states that Arafat was rather pressured by Israeli and American officials to denounce an armed approach and terrorism. Throughout the Oslo Accords, its stated that Arafat was the weaker party, and that he was rather accepted terms and condition which Israel modelled. This argument thereby makes Arafat’s peaceful resolution of the Palestinian problem not an intuitive of his, but rather a pressure he had to comply with. In regards to the Camp David Summit, a many historians believed it was doomed to fail. Kamrava argues that both parties thought they were giving up more to the other, while the other wasn’t being “reasonable” in their “compromise.”Hence, in dealing with the most controversial issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the issue of Jerusalem, there was never to be an agreement. Hence, Arafat’s peaceful resolve of the Palestinian problem was always doomed to fail. Nevertheless, there are others, such as Bassim Abu Sherif, who says that the new peace path was rather genuine and promising. He claims though the US authorities did put down demands for Yasser Arafat, Arafat rather wanted his announcement to first be supported by for the PLO and Palestinians, then flexible to US demands, “It was clear that Arafat wanted to be flexible enough to meet American demands, but he also wanted to make sure that he had the approval of the majority of the PLO executive committee to preserve the democracy of the decision making process of the PLO.” It was clear that Arafat was aware that by this time, both he and Palestinians were exhausted from fighting. Hence, this different approach in dealing with the Palestinian struggle might be interpreted as a new path, thereby creating new opportunities in dealing with the Palestinian problem.
Arafat’s change in means resolving the Palestinian problem is also an issue of debate. The question of why change in direction and whether it was genuine is truly the discussion. But a deduction of Arafat’s activities brings an understanding of genuinity. Hence, his role in trying to resolve the Palestinian problem is herein magnified by his actions of this new resolve. It’s evident that with years of unrest and the lack of advancement in resolving the Palestinian problem, Arafat needed to find a new resolve. He needed to settle the Palestinian crisis that now nearly turned into internal feuding. So, by understanding this dire need of change, it must be clear that he, Arafat, chose to change the idea of an armed struggle. It seems that he neither needed the pressure of Israel or the U.S. but rather chose to do it because of situation of the Palestinian people. Hence, it makes the resolution a genuine on Arafat’s part. Therefore, we see in Arafat’s change in thought his striving quest of solving the Palestinian problem. Arafat’s role in dealing with the Palestinian problem could further be evaluated by his actions at Oslo and Camp David. First of all, he dealt with the issue of ‘Palestinian homeland’ in Palestine with the Oslo Accord. In this regard, Arafat failed to clearly resolve the issue, due to the vagueness of the matter he agreed on. This leads to the next issue of Jerusalem. Arafat’s Oslo agreement’s failure is exacerbated by the fact that the continuation of Oslo, (Camp David) broke down with the issue of Jerusalem. This issue of Israeli-Palestinian co-existence was spoken of the most in both talks, but without decisively dealing with this tension point issues, Arafat was doomed to fail. Hence, though Arafat tried to drive and resolve the Palestinian problem peacefully, he achieve no more than his armed resolution.
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