UW Oshkosh

Guest Editorials

David C. RapoportProf. David Rapoport

Our first guest editorial is from Prof. David Rapoport. Prof. Rapoport presided over the opening of the Institute, giving a lecture on his Four Waves theory at this university. With his permission, we would like to post his 2004 editorial in Newsday as our first guest editorial.

A Nobel terrorist unlike the others

BY DAVID C. Rapoport

David C. Rapoport is editor of the Journal of Terrorism and author of "The Democratic Experience and Political Violence." He is professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.

November 14, 2004
In the conflicted and mixed reactions to his death, it is easy to forget that Yasser Arafat was the fourth former terrorist to earn a Nobel Peace Prize, after Menachem Begin (a leader of the militant Irgun in Palestine in the 1940s), and Anwar Sadat and Nelson Mandela (both of whom were involved in terrorist activity.)

At the award ceremony in 1994 Arafat described his violent activities as "an adventure and peace as a challenge." But as events later demonstrated, he was the only one of the former terrorist recipients who ultimately failed to meet that challenge.

Arafat struggled much longer than the others, leading the Palestine Liberation Organization for 40 years, declaring it "my woman, my family, my life." Unlike the others, he signed no conclusive agreement. But then, no terrorist has ever had better than partial success in achieving his ultimate political objective.

What Arafat did achieve was the most powerful terrorist organization yet created, with wealth unmatched, and the only terrorist organization in history to have observer status at the United Nations. In the end, there was no Palestinian state, but there was, crucially, a Palestinian identity.

Complete revolutionary victories do occur; but in those cases terror either has not been used or was combined with violence. In Cuba, Castro used guerrilla tactics against army targets. Vietnamese and Algerian terror were elements of larger military campaigns. Only small groups have used terror alone; if they used indiscriminate tactics for very long, they risked alienating more people than they attracted.

Successful terrorist campaigns were short. Michael Collins (IRA Ireland) fought from 1920-22, Begin in Israel from 1944-48, and Georges Grivas (Eoka, Cyprus) 1955-58. But each found their initial objective frustrated and accepted treaties denying the legitimacy of that aim. The Irish agreed that the northern part of the island was British. Israel agreed not to claim all of its ancient land, and EOKA accepted an independent Cyprus instead of union with Greece.

Uniquely, Arafat's struggle involved two peoples living on home territories, making the complete destruction of one or the other a permanent nightmare. But, among terrorist organizations it was uniquely privileged. It had the opportunity to step in as heir to territory that was reserved for a Palestinian state after the 1948 war.

The PLO began as a confederation of terrorist organizations usually linked to different Arab states. But the existence of the promised territory made for a natural passage to legitimacy. There followed recognition by the Arab League in 1979 and later the UN. None of this was possible without Arafat's greatest achievement: creation of a Palestinian national identity. This did not exist when he started, and Palestinians did not supply terrorists with an operating base. No terrorist organization inspired and cooperated with foreign terrorists or carried out more foreign attacks than the PLO.

But having announced a commitment to a two-state solution and renounced terror, leading to the Oslo Accords that enabled the PLO to come home to Palestine, it is not clear why Arafat rejected the Israeli 2000 peace offer and did not stop the current and most deadly Palestinian terrorist campaign yet. Abu Iyad, the PLO's former intelligence chief, once wrote that when difficult decisions were required the most militant elements always prevailed.

The identity Arafat created seemed inseparable from himself, and he could not lead in a more productive direction.

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