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Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography Hardcover – August 14, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this sober account, two veteran writers on the Middle East (The Transformation of Palestinian Politics) catalogue Arafat's career from his student days in Cairo through his years as the head of a violent nationalist movement, to his surprising emergence as the internationally respected leader of the Palestinian people. The authors offer strong evidence not only that Arafat has a long history of duplicity, but more interestingly, that he has repeatedly made gross errors of judgment. He got his organization "kicked from Amman to Beirut and then to Tunis" for stirring up trouble in his host countries, sided with Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War, and has consistently made military miscalculations, as he did in 1970 against Jordan's King Hussein. The writers sometimes stray from their lawyerly tone, most speciously when they attempt to connect both Arafat and Iran to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Suggesting that Iran (the source of arms bought by Arafat) is "allies to a degree with the forces of Usama bin Ladin" without so much as a footnote undermines their credibility somewhat, but does not alter their central point-that Arafat is a bad leader and a worse peace partner. The authorsargue that Arafat retains behind-the-scenes power, but with Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas sworn in, Arafat's perceived importance may be waning. A useful chronology and glossary of names and political movements is provided.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In characterizing himself as "the most important person in the Middle-East equation," Yasir Arafat has not given all students of his life reason to rejoice. Far otherwise. The authors of these two books probing Arafat's unlikely career see in his status only a tragically diminished likelihood for regional peace.

In the shorter and more narrowly focused book, Karsh examines Arafat's dubious role in the Palestinian uprising (the al-Aqsa Intifada) that began in September 2000 and has greatly reduced the hopes for peace raised by the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. Adducing compelling evidence, Karsh depicts Arafat as the mastermind who planned the al-Aqsa Intifada--including the suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, and lynchings--long before he found it convenient to describe the orchestrated violence as a spontaneous national response to Ariel Sharon's pre-approved visit to Temple Mount. The al-Aqsa Intifada thus fits into a cynical larger strategy--which Karsh chillingly limns in Arafat's own words--for using peace negotiations as a temporary gambit in enlarging and solidifying the machinery necessary to destroy the state of Israel. Because most Palestinians want peace, Karsh does not blame them for their leader's perfidy. But he does blame Israeli leaders and the international community, accusing them of almost criminal naivete in affording Arafat repeated openings to work his black magic.

Sharp criticism of Israeli and international leaders also frames the much fuller portrait of Arafat offered by the Rubins. Like Karsh, the Rubins portray Arafat as treacherous, tracing his malign influence back much further than the al-Aqsa Intifada, marshalling compelling evidence of Arafat's complicity in numerous earlier atrocities, including the 1972 outrage at the Munich Olympics and the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro. But the Rubins also show how--for all his cunning--Arafat has repeatedly sabotaged his own projects through inexplicable arrogance and tactical foolishness. Yet even when he alienated most Arab leaders by applauding Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Arafat managed--yet again--to survive. The Rubins attribute Arafat's staying power to his tyrannical control of all Palestinian institutions and his adept manipulation of Western credulity. Some will disagree with the authors' conclusions about their subject, but there can be no doubt that this "political biography" makes a strong and compelling case for its position. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (August 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195166892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195166897
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,420,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like many well-meaning European leftists I grew through my political adolescence with an ill-informed but (or should that be "therefore"?) resolute conviction that, while respecting Israel's right to exist, etc., there had to be a Palestinian state before peace in the Middle East could be secured and, fiurthermore, that Yasir Arafat was the key to that solution. This book - along with other extensive reading - confirms that view for the well-meaning illusion it was (and remains, not least in the halls of the European Union and its member states).
The book does not make Arafat out to be an evil ogre but a masterful and Macchiavellian schemer, managing to portray himself as a militant and martial Islamic leader to the Arab world but as a diplomatic yet frustrated nation-builder in the mould of Mandela to all-too-many "useful idiots" in the West. The Rubins convey - with convincing evidence, implacable logic and admirable constraint - the true extent to which Arafat and his authoritarian and anti-semitic clique (not Sharon or Israel or "US imperialism") remains the principal cause of the Palestinians' suffering and deprivation. Their insights into broader Middle East politics and the collective pathologies that pass for Arab nationalism also provide critical insights into the situation in Iraq.
If you read only one book on the Middle East this year, this is the one.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Eric Langager on November 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
I suppose I can be forgiven for being just a bit skeptical of a book about a radical Arab written by a couple American Jews. Could it ever have any claim to objectivity? Maybe in an American bookstore, I would have been inclined to pass it up. But I live in Beijing, China, where such books don't grow on trees. A Chinese friend put the book in my hands. I have been a bit puzzled and curious about the way Arafat is viewed as a revolutionary hero in China, yet China strives to maintain good relations with Israel, a nation whose very existence Arafat never accepted. So I read the book.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. I'm not saying that the book is totally objective in every respect. But it is a very well-written discussion of the relationship problems Arafat had, both with Israel, and with the leaders of the Arab nations, who were supposed to be his supporters. Bottom line: Arafat didn't get along with anyone.

In one sense, Arafat made this book for the writers, because he was so consistent in his complete inability to come to some kind of workable agreement with Israel. His whole life and work epitomized Abba Eban's statement about the Palestinians, who "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Personally, I don't think the statement is entirely fair when applied to the Palestinians, but it certainly is an appropriate statement about Arafat, who never gave up fighting the nation with whom he, more than any Arab before him, had the opportunity to make peace. If the peacemakers are blessed, Arafat is among the most cursed of all men. So how did such an ornery cuss gain such prominence? Part of his success is certainly due to his knack for self-promotion, and the brazenness of his contempt for Israel.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on February 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Yasser Arafat's centrality to the Middle East equation is hard to deny. An impressive survivor, he continues to command considerable power and clout despite the countless times his adversaries have declared him irrelevant. With this in mind, Rubin and Rubin have done students of the Middle East a great service with this able biography, by far the most complete of the five so far published. The authors track Arafat from his student days in Egypt, through his transition from one of the founders of modern terrorism to a leader commanding considerable respect on the world stage. The authors offer considerable analysis of his most fateful and often disastrous decisions, from attempting to overthrow the king of Jordan that led to the so called Black September Massacre, to his decision to back Saddam Hussein in the first gulf war. Through all of this a telling portrait of Arafat emerges, though not one that his acolytes would necessarily appreciate.
Arafat's ability to play world powers off each other, first the Soviets off the US and now the Europeans off the US, is justifiably legendary. The authors do an excellent job explaining how he does this, understanding the essential goals of each and inserting himself into their strategy. What emerges is a man whose greatest concern is not his people, but his role in history and that he should never be seen as "the traitor who made peace with the Jews." Indeed, he is quoted when he rejected the Camp David Accords that he did not want to be the man who was seen as accepting the Jewish States right to exist. The Rubin?s do not seek to turn Arafat into some sort of evil monster, but rather to put him in the context of his culture, his times, and his values.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"A masterly study?.Many books have been published recently about Iranian politics; here is one at last that makes sense of the Shah's reign and Khomeini's revolution, and provides a full, objective assessment of the American role in both eras."--The New York Times Book Review
"An extremely readable, up-to-date, comprehensive and balanced study which is also a unique combination of scholarship and reporting?.[Rubin] is able to unravel contemporary developments and reweave them in an often rich narrative style."--Washington Post Book World
"Judicious and thoughtful?Rubin offers a prognosis for the future with the measured optimism of someone who has watched the conflict unfold from up close for some time." --Boston Book Review
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