Editor's Pick

Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo
01 December, 2023

ON 13 DECEMBER 1988, Yasser Arafat, the chairperson of the Palestine Liberation Organization, arrives at an extraordinary session of the United Nations General Assembly in Geneva. The General Assembly had resolved, almost unanimously—only Israel and the United States voted against—to convene in Geneva in order to hear Arafat, who had been denied a visa by the US government, in November, because of his “associations with terrorism.” At a press conference in Stockholm, on 7 December, Arafat announced that the PLO had agreed to recognise the state of Israel and to condemn all forms of terrorism.

At the time, the PLO was based in Tunisia, having been forced out of Jordan, in 1971, and then agreeing to leave Lebanon, in 1982, in exchange for Israel lifting its siege of Beirut. In December 1987, the First Intifada broke out in Palestine, with a number of groups—including a new outfit called Hamas—coming together to resist the occupation through unarmed protests. The Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin responded with an “iron fist” policy. Security forces killed around three hundred protesters in the first year of the uprising, earning Israel worldwide opprobrium and leading to unprecedented support for the Palestinian cause.

At Geneva, Arafat reiterated the PLO’s renunciation of violence and willingness to work towards a political solution. Israel refused to allow PLO representation at the Madrid peace conference, in 1991, but initiated secret negotiations that resulted in Arafat and Rabin signing the first Oslo Accord, in September 1993. The deal resulted in mutual recognition and the return of the PLO to the occupied territories, where it would guarantee Israel’s security and gradually assume limited self-rule over parts of Palestine. However, Israel refused to end the occupation, and the peace process foundered after a Zionist extremist assassinated Rabin, in 1995, and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister, the following year.