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Arafat: From Defender to Dictator Paperback – 27 Sep 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (27 Sept. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747544301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747544302
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 556,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Said K. Aburish was born in the biblical village of Bethany near Jerusalem in 1935. He attended university in the United States and subsequently became a correspondent for Radio Free Europe and The Daily Mail, and a consultant to two Arab governments. Now a freelance journalist and author, his books include Children of Bethany, Cry Palestine, and Arafat: From Defender to Dictator.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ms. K. Rockliff on 22 Sept. 2014
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Very well researched 24 Sept. 2004
By Hussain Abdul-Hussain - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Even though an interview with Arafat in which he could have offered some justifications to counter Aburish's accusations, the book still managed to safely sail to the shore of objectivity.

With or without Arafat, the amount of information acquired from his aides and from news reports makes the book fairly credible.

The book revolved around two main themes: First, Arafat has always put his leadership concerns over all other matters including vital Palestinian interests. Second, the Israelis never intended to recognize the Palestinian leadership as the representative of the Arabs residing in the occupied territories. Instead, it opted for trying to deal with the Jordanian leadership as the representative of these Palestinians and using a policy of an iron fist with them.

An articulate Aburish argues that the peace process was born dead for three main reasons. Arafat's tribal behavior and corruption made him impose his leadership on the Palestinians living in the territories whereas the real leadership was offered by the residents themselves such as Al-Shafi, Ashrawi and Husseini. Second, the Israeli never stopped creating new realities by constantly expanding their settlements in Palestinian territories and errecting new ones, a situation which made the Palestinians always doubtful of the Israeli true intentions toward a durable peace.

While Arafat believed that some Israeli concessions would beef up his leadership after he was ejected from Beirut in 1982 and lived since then in Tunisian exile, Israel thought that with minimum concessions it could force Arafat to police and supress the Palestinians living under occupation.

The end result (not in the book), was the collapse of the peace process and an increase in violence, which creates a bleak picture of the future of peace and makes both the Palestinians and the Israelis head into oblivion.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Fairly objective analysis of Arafat's character 29 April 2000
By Nitay Artenstein - Published on
Format: Paperback
Said K. Aburish has written, I believe, one of the best biographies of Yasser Arafat to date, giving fair weight to the man's positive qualities, among them energy and cunning, while not failing to note his blatant negative attributes, such as lack of administrative ability or opportunism. He also makes accurate analyses regarding the Middle East situation in matters regarding Arafat and his countrymen.
One point where Aburish does seem to be extremely weak is in his ability to analyse Israeli policies and motives, probably due to his living under their rule for a part of his life. One memorable passage in the book regarding this issue is (quoting from memory, only general drift recorded): 'There is a mountain in Jerusalem where the Holy Temple of the Jews once stood, and now the Mosque of Al-Aksa is built there. The Israelis would like to destroy the Mosque and rebuild their temple on the mountain'. Naturally, every person understanding something of Israeli affairs would see that this proposition, at least regarding the majority of Jewish Israelis, is completely ridiculous.
Still, to learn about the nature of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict\peace-process (depending on your viewpoint) you could find no better place to begin.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Devastating exposee of a corrupt megalomaniac 14 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Aburish's latest instalment on the Middle East focussed on one of its least understood players. Aburish identifies the driving force behind Arafat's policies as the almost obsessive desire to be the sole and exclusive representative of the Palestinian people. In this respect, given the current inseparableness of the Palestinian cause from the persona of Arafat, he has been successful.
This has however come at the expense of other Palestinian politicians and figures of influence, and not least the people of the occupied territories. Always preoccupied with maintaining his power base, Arafat has surrounded himself with the so-called "foreign crowd" - the Palestinians who followed him into exile - rather than indigenous leaders from the territories. This has logically led to a policy of undermining resistance groups who try to develop independently of his leadership, often to the detriment of the cause at large.
This Israelis have not been slow to understand this character trait, and have over the years played to Arafat's vanity, successfully receiving in return concessions which would have been unthinkable to any sane Arab negotiator. Arafat has also excluded the most talented and respected Palestinian figures from positions of influence so as to head off potential threats to his still unassailable position of leadership.
The devastating conclusion to Aburish's biography is a picture of a man driven by ambition (though not personally enamoured by the trappings of wealth), willing to compromise on every issue in order to remain acceptable to Israel and the world at large. In fact the only break on Arafat's perfidy is the fear of being overthrown by his own side.
This requires a fine balancing act, but Arafat has been the master of this for more than three decades. His personal and politician survival will depend on his maintaining these contradictions in check.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Refreshingly Palestinian Perspective 30 Sept. 2003
By J. Melcon - Published on
Format: Paperback
Written without the assistance of Arafat, Aburish's biography is an attempt to uncover the mystery of Arafat that has baffled biographers for so long. If nothing else, Aburish wants us to understand how Arafat works. This understanding is limited to a political scope; there is little attempt at delving into Arafat's personal life (e.g. only three paragraphs give consideration to his wife). Aburish concludes with much praise for the strategies of Arafat, but corresponding condemnation for his execution of these strategies (even when Arafat appears to have had success, Aburish often finds ways to attribute it to the mistakes of others, usually Israel). The verdict: Arafat has caused the Palestinians a great deal of trouble in spite of getting their hopes up. He needs to be replaced.
Aburish deserves praise for his command of the English language-further evidence of his ability to communicate with the West. Aburish knows his own fluency in English enough to be justified in poking fun at Arafat's elementary use of the language and his penchant toward outdated clichés. As if to show us how comfortable he is with Western thinking, Aburish has placed a quote from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman just before the first page of his introduction.
Of great use to students of 20th century Middle East conflict(s) is Aburish's extensive index. This may make the book profitable for partial study and research, even if students do not read it cover-to-cover. For example, the index lists 19 pages that mention Abu Mazen, and makes reference to one page in Through Secret Channels, Mazen's memoirs. On the other hand, Mazen is only indexed by that name. You will not find him if you're just looking under Abu or Mahmoud or Abbas.
Some may be concerned with Aburish's portrayal of Israel, but others will find it "refreshingly negative." You do not expect a Palestinian to praise Israel, and Aburish rarely does. To be sure, there are times when he omits certain information that might have justified Israel's actions. On the other hand, the book is not written as a condemnation of Israel. If anything it is a condemnation of Arafat, and not because of how he hurt Israelis, but because of how he hurt the Palestinians. In the big picture, all his condemnation of Israel is not even as extensive as his condemnation of PNA corruption alone. Seeing that Aburish has no qualms about criticizing fellow Palestinians confirms his relative lack of bias against Israel. Aburish criticizes people and "nations" because of their blunders, not because of their race or creed.
A major downside of the book is that Aburish seems to assume in his readers a broad knowledge of 20th century Middle East history. In other words, this is not the book to read if you're just starting to dabble in the life of Arafat, or even Middle East affairs in general. Readers who have lived through the better part of the 20th century, and have at least made an effort to understand their world, should not have a problem filling in the "gaps" of Aburish's narrative. Younger readers should make sure they've spent some time studying the subject before tackling this book. Backgrounds in the Middle East conflicts (not just Arab-Israeli), chronology and people are prerequisites for reading this book, not results.
Perhaps the greatest problem for readers today is that the book is outdated. Aburish wrote it in 1998, which leaves readers clueless as to Arafat's role in the renewed violence of the last three years. Why then did Aburish write it in 1998? He is, after all, seven years younger than Arafat. Why not wait until Arafat dies? Aburish's stated reasons included the fact in the 5 or so years leading up to 1998 Arafat had undergone a great change in the public eye. He went from being labeled as a terrorist to being a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The fact that Arafat suddenly became "acceptable" to the public tore down the veils of secrecy that had previously restricted biographers. The opportunity beckoned for Aburish to compose his mystery-revealing biography.
As a result, Aburish's biography will remain a thorough analysis of Arafat's behavior in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. It also does an excellent job exploring Arafat's response to Oslo. Even in 1998 Aburish was able to admit-as all agree today-that Oslo had failed. So for a study of Arafat during these 20th century periods, Aburish's book is of tremendous value.
The book is highly recommended for those-as stated earlier-who have a good grasp on the Middle East. Those who have already read a biography of Arafat are even more encouraged to read this one. They'd probably be committing some sort of sin if they don't read it. But for those who don't know much about the Middle East, or don't want to hear a word against Israel, there are more appropriate books available.
I must add one personal note to this review. Current political statements brought Arafat to the cover of every newspaper and many news magazines during the time when I was reading Aburish's book. I was, in effect, flooded with Arafat. This climaxed when one night-perhaps after staying up late reading the book-I dreamt that I actually met Yasser Arafat himself. I won't tell you any details about the meeting, save that Arafat's character was consistent with Aburish's portrayal. In other words, Said Aburish has done such a good job removing the mystery of Arafat in his biography that I felt like I knew Arafat even in my sleep.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Arafat: The Survivor 23 May 2002
By Kurt W. Jefferson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Palestinian journalist Said K. Aburish has written a systematic and scholarly overview on the political life of Yasser Arafat. With close attention to details and the factual precision of an historian or political scientist, Aburish paints a unique, although not surprising picture of the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Although most reviewers have noted Aburish's pungent critique of Arafat as an opportunistic, ever corrupt, and self-absorbed dictator, I find Aburish's Palestinian worldview tempers his criticism of Arafat and in some ways, backhandedly salutes and legitimates Arafat's actions over 40 years of fighting for the Palestinian cause. This humanizes Arafat and allows readers to look at him as one would Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, etc. This book is dense and contains information about Arafat's rise and his relations with his Arab brethren, the Israelis, and the USA. Interestingly, Arafat's rise to prominence, first with his Fatah (Conquest) organization and then as PLO head, occurs roughly over the period of profound tension and warfare between Israel and the Arabs over the Palestinian question (1960s-1980s). Aburish does a brilliant job portraying the character of the man and his ways (Arafat likes cornflakes with tea, "Tom and Jerry" cartoons, and can have a hot temper). Despite Arafat's penchant for opportunism and, at times, Machiavellian tendencies, Arafat appears to be more sensitive to peace than some have given him credit. Readers will learn much about recent (Cold War-era) Middle East history and politics. They will also learn much about the seemingly perpetual feud within the Arab world, and within the Palestinian political community as well. Aburish's book is dense, yet readable, and an excellent education on Arafat, the enigmatic, yet omnipresent leader of the Palestinians. Hence, this book will help one understand the current crisis(post-September 28, 2000 when the Al-Aqsa intifada started) and how it is once again encompassing Middle Eastern politics.
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