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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Brody

Who's Who: Arab Leadership

If you've grown up in a Jewish and/or Zionist community, you know the greats: Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and Yitzhak Rabin are among those etched into our memories. However, this is only half of the story. On the other side of every negotiating table, every peace treaty, and every agreement was an Arab leader, someone whose name we mention once or twice and then lose in the cloud of details of history. These names define the journey toward peace in the Middle East and, to many in the region, are the names they know like the back of their hand. In order to understand how to move forward, we must first understand the leaders of the past and present.

Mahmoud Abbas

Abbas has been the President of the Palestinian Authority since 2005. He was a key early leader of Fatah. Abbas has repeatedly been involved in peace talks with Israel, from the 1991 Madrid conference to the '93 Oslo Accords and the Camp David Accords of 2000. As the Prime Minister of the PA, Abbas denounced terrorism, though he later resigned under pressure from Arafat.

Following Arafat's death, Abbas was elected to take his place. Peace talks were stalled under his presidency until 2007, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas 93% of the West Bank, though lack of complete details forced Abbas to reject the plan. After Netanyahu succeeded Olmert, that plan fell apart and talks have since been stuck.

Anwar Sadat

Anwar Sadat was the President of Egypt from 1970 until 1981. Under his leadership, Egypt and Israel began peace talks and signed a peace treaty in 1979, making Egypt the first Arab country to do so. Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin received the Nobel Prize for Peace together for their ongoing work toward peace in 1978. While this made Sadat popular with Israel and Western nations, Egyptians opposed the treaty, leading to his assassination during a military parade in 1981.

Haj Amin al-Husseini

Haj Amin al-Husseini was appointed the grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 during the British Mandate. He engineered several revolts against the Jews during pre-State Israel. Al-Husseini also led the Palestinian National Council, which was established in Gaza and supported by several Arab states. He was also known to be linked to Hitler and believed that the Germans and the Arabs had the same enemies: namely, the Jews. He went into exile in 1937 and was an advocate for pan-Arabism and the destruction of the Jewish state.

Yasser Arafat

Arafat was elected as the first President of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. He was the leader of the Fatah party. Beginning in 1969, he was the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, the negotiating body of the Palestinian people). In 1993, Arafat and Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin communicated through the secret negotiations in Oslo, where both leaders recognized the other as a negotiating body. Arafat, Rabin, and US President Clinton signed an agreement that would work toward Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza within five years. Rabin, Arafat, and Shimon Peres were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for their work. As tensions rose and violence peaked at the turn of the century, Arafat lost credibility and popularity until he died in 2004.

King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan

Hussein bin Talal was the King of Jordan beginning in 1952 until he died in 1999. He fought in three wars against Israel: the Six-Day War, in which Jordan lost the West Bank, Black September, and the Yom Kippur War, all of which Jordan lost. After over a decade of back and forth between Hussein and Israeli leaders, Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994.


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