Palestine: Part 14 – The Rise of Arafat
The resounding defeat of Syria, Jordan and Egypt in the Six Day War of 1967 destroyed the credibility of Arab states that had fought to be patrons for the Palestinian people and their nationalist cause. The war radicalized the Palestinians and significantly weakened Egyptian President Nasser’s influence. The way was opened, particularly after the Battle of Karameh for Yasser Arafat to rise to power.
Battle of Karameh
March 21, 1968 in the town of Karameh, Jordan, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and combined forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian Army engaged in battle. Originally, Israel planned two concurrent raids on PLO camps, one in Karameh and one in the distant village of Safi but the former turned into a full-scale battle.
The attacks were in reprisal for a series of raids by the PLO against Israel, mostly by the Fatah faction, which culminated in an Israeli school bus hitting a mine. Israel assumed that the Jordanian Army would ignore the invasion, but the latter fought alongside the Palestinians and inflicted heavy losses upon the Israeli forces. The Israelis withdrew at the end of a day’s battle, having destroyed most of the Karameh camp and taken hundreds of prisoners.
Both sides declared victory. To the Israelis, the purpose of the mission was achieved by destroying the Fatah camp. However, for the Palestinians it became a victory that established their national claims. At first, the battle was seen as unifying the Hashemite Jordan with its many Palestinian refugees and residents, as King Hussein had proclaimed “I think we may reach a position where we are all fedayeen.” After the battle however, the PLO’s strength began to grow, and Palestinians spoke openly of taking over Jordan as part of Palestine.
Arafat advocated guerrilla warfare and successfully sought to make the PLO a fully independent organization under the control of the fedayeen (type of voluntary militant group found in Persian culture extending to countries which (historically speaking) were, or are, Persian influenced) organizations. At the Palestinian National Congress meeting of 1969, Fatah (leading Palestinian political party) gained control of the executive bodies of the PLO. Arafat was appointed PLO chairman at the Palestinian National Congress (legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization) in Cairo on 4 February 1969. From then on, the Executive Committee was composed essentially of representatives of the various member organizations. The PLO at this time did not clearly either accept or reject a two state solution.
Palestine: Part 15 – Black September