A decade on from Arafat’s death, Palestine ‘lacks leadership’

Futile negotiations by Abbas may have put a third intifada firmly on the agenda

A spate of stabbing and vehicle attacks mounted by Palestinian youths against Israelis in the run-up to the 10th anniversary this week of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and multiplying protests against Israeli settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, have prompted pundits to suggest that a third intifada, or uprising, has begun.

While key elements of both the first (1987-1991) and second (2000-2005) intifadas are present in recent violent actions, during both previous risings Arafat guided and politically exploited events.

Today the Palestinians are leaderless and their frustration has not been channelled into a comprehensive resistance such as that fashioned by Arafat during the first intifada.

The death of Arafat, "Mr Palestine", at 75 on November 11th, 2004, marked an end to the era of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation by political and armed means. He was succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas, no longer seen by Palestinians as a credible leader since he has opted solely for negotiations to achieve the Palestinian dream of independence.


Armed campaign

Although both armed struggle and negotiations have failed, Arafat’s carefully calculated blend of the two put Palestine back on the map of the world and secured recognition of the Palestinians as a people deserving of statehood. His Fatah movement launched armed struggle in 1965 and intensified efforts in 1967 after


occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, with Arafat himself taking part.

His approach was epitomised on November 13th, 1974, when he appeared holding an olive branch in one hand and a (symbolic) gun in the other at the United Nations general assembly, and warned the international community not to allow the olive branch to fall from his hand. Small of stature and unprepossessing, Arafat was suddenly seen as a statesmen.

Following his address on that occasion, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), headed by Arafat, was granted UN observer status and the Palestinian right to self-determination was recognised. This was a major triumph for Palestinians who, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir had said in 1969, "do not exist".

Inspirational figure

Another victory for Arafat came on November 15th, 1988, when the PLO’s parliament-in-exile adopted a declaration of independence which led to gradual recognition of Palestine as a state by 135 of the UN’s 193 members. His black-and-white headdress became a symbol of struggling peoples the world over.

The declaration led to the 1993 Oslo accord, Arafat's 1994 return to Palestinian territory after 27 years in exile, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and his 1996 election to the presidency. However, his belief that the Oslo accords meant Israel would end its occupation was undermined by continuing settlement construction.

Oslo’s failure to deliver independence prompted the second intifada, Israel’s 2002 re-occupation of Palestinian-administered West Bank cities and towns, and the imprisonment until death of Arafat in his bomb-devastated Ramallah headquarters.

Thousands attended his burial in the compound, mourning the man who had accomplished a great deal for the Palestinian people in spite of Israel’s overwhelming military might and political clout on the world stage.