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IN THE NEWS – June 29, 2002: Palestinian Elections and Arafat - 2002-06-28

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

The Palestinian Authority announced Wednesday that presidential and legislative elections will be held in January. Two days earlier, President Bush called on the Palestinians to elect new leaders who reject terrorism. He also called for a Palestinian constitution and other democratic reforms before a Palestinian state can be created.

A Palestinian official said Yasser Arafat will again seek the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. Mister Arafat has been a leader of the Palestinian people for more than thirty years. He was named chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Nineteen-Sixty-Nine. The P-L-O was formed five years earlier from a number of groups that wanted to return Palestine to the Palestinians. Most of that area is now Israel. For most of the P-L-O’s history the organization did not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The P-L-O says Yasser Arafat was born in the city of Jerusalem, in what was then British-ruled Palestine. His birth documents say he was born in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in Nineteen-Twenty-Nine.

Yasser Arafat graduated in Nineteen-Fifty-Six from King Faud University in Cairo with a degree in civil engineering. He joined the Palestine National Movement and began service in the Egyptian Army. In Nineteen-Fifty-Eight, he helped formed the al Fatah movement, which called for armed struggle to free Palestinian lands.

In the Nineteen-Sixties, Mister Arafat helped plan many al Fatah attacks against Israel. Israel attacked P-L-O bases in return.

When Mister Arafat became chairman of the P-L-O thirty-two years ago, al Fatah became the most powerful guerrilla group in the organization. The P-L-O first was based in Jordan but was expelled because of its attacks on Israel. The P-L-O later established headquarters in Tunisia.

In Ninety-Seventy-Four, Arab governments recognized the P-L-O as the only legal official representative of the Palestinian people. In the same year, the U-N agreed and admitted the Palestine Liberation Organization to the U-N as an observer.

In Nineteen-Eighty-Eight, the P-L-O announced a major policy change. Mister Arafat told the U-N that the P-L-O had rejected terrorism and accepted Israel’s right to exist along with a state of Palestine.

Five years later, Israel and the P-L-O reached a historic agreement in Oslo, Norway, whose goal was to create peace in the area. It gave Palestinians limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza. Yasser Arafat returned to Gaza. In Nineteen-Ninety-Six, Palestinians elected him president of the Palestinian National Authority.

Some Middle East experts see a risk in calling for new Palestinian leadership. They are concerned about who the Palestinians might elect.

This VOA Special English In The News was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.