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Biographies

These are people who had a role in the relationships among the people of the Middle East. The list is only a sample, and should be expanded for your own use as you discover other important personalities.

Abbas, Mahmoud (also known as Abu Mazen) – Born 1935 in Safed, British Mandate of Palestine. One of the co-founders of Fatah in 1959, Abbas has long been a prominent figure in Palestinian politics. He served as chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization after the death of Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was formed in 1964. Abbas became president of the Palestinian National Authority on 15 January 2005. Known as a moderate, one of Abbas’ main challenges has been to keep violence-prone factions nominally under his control from undermining the peace process.

Arafat, Yasser – ( also known as Muhammad Abdul Rahman Abdul Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini and Abu Ammar) – Born 1929, probably in Jerusalem. Arafat was a tremendously controversial figure, seen as a hero by many Palestinians and a terrorist by many Israelis. He was a co-founder of Fatah in 1957, and became chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1969, a position he held until his death. Arafat repeatedly distanced himself from terrorism, but was also accused of clandestinely advocating it. He participated in the 1993 Oslo Peace Conference, and was a co-winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize (along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin) for his efforts. When the Legislative Council of the Palestine National Authority (PNA) was elected on 20 January 1996, Arafat was elected President. The Oslo Accords failed to live up to their promise, however, and peace remained elusive. In 2001, Israeli troops blockaded him in his West Bank headquarters. Arafat died on 11 November 2004 in France. The exact cause of death remains unknown.

Begin, Menachem – Born 1913 in Brest-Litovsk. Begin became leader of the paramilitary group IZL, also known as Irgun, short for Irgun Tsvai Leamia or Etzel, which was an anti-British terrorist group during the period of the Mandate of Palestine. IZL carried out terrorist activities including the notorious bombing of the King David Hotel. He founded the political party Herut, which eventually became Likud. He served as Israeli prime minister from 1977 to 1983, and played a significant part in the negotiations which led to the Camp David Accords. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, along with Anwar Sadat. Menachem Begin died in Jerusalem in 1992.

Ben-Gurion, David – Born 1886 in Plonsk, Poland. A founder of the State of Israel, he became the nation’s first prime minister on 25 January 1948, and led the Israelis in the 1948 War of Independence. With the exception of a two-year period between 1953 and 1955, he held the prime minister post until 1963. He remained in politics until 1970, and died in 1973.

Dayan, Moshe – Born 1915 in what would become Palestine. He became a professional soldier early in his life. During the Second World War he was blinded in his left eye and began wearing the famous eye patch that made him instantly recognizable throughout his career. In the 1950s, before moving on to politics, he served as the Israeli Defence Force’s chief of staff. He became a national hero for his role in the Six-Day War (1967), but lost popularity following the poor performance of the Israeli leadership during the October War (1973). Dayan also served as the foreign minister in Menachem Begin’s government, and he played an important role in the signing of the Camp David Accords. Moshe Dayan died in 1981 from colon cancer.

Meir, Golda – Born 1898 in Kiev, Ukraine (now Kyiv). She was a signatory of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, in 1948. She served as ambassador to the Soviet Union, minister of labour, and foreign minister before succeeding Levi Eshkol as prime minister on 17 March 1969. She remained in this role until 11 April 1974 when she resigned the premiership and was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin. She had come under severe criticism for the Israeli performance during the Yom Kippur War, and she left a government wracked by internal dissension. She died in Jerusalem in 1978.

Netanyahu, Binyamin – Born 1949 in Tel Aviv. Known as a hardliner in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu became Israeli prime minister in 1996 after defeating Shimon Peres in a general election. He remained in that position until 1999, when he lost to Ehud Barak. After a brief retirement from politics, he joined Ariel Sharon’s Likud government as foreign minister. He became finance minister after the 2003 elections, but resigned 9 August 2005 in protest of Sharon’s Disengagement Plan. He is seen as a strong rival to Sharon as the leader of the Likud party.

Peres, Shimon – Born 1923 in Wieniawa, Poland (now Vishniev, Belarus). Peres was the Israeli prime minister from 1984 to 1986 and again from 1995 to 1996. He is the leader of the Israeli Labour Party and served as foreign affairs minister from 2001 to 2002. In 2005, he was made vice premier in Ariel Sharon’s coalition government. Shimon Peres was a co-winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for contributions to the process, which resulted in the Oslo Accords.

Rabin, Yitzhak – Born 1922 in Jerusalem. Rabin succeeded Golda Meir as prime minister in 1974, a position he held until 1977. He was elected prime minister again in 1992 and played a key role in the Oslo Accords. He was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November 1995 in Tel Aviv.

Sadat, Anwar – Born 1918 in Mit Abu Al-Kum, Al-Minufiyah, Egypt. Sadat succeeded Gamal Abdul Nasser as the Egyptian president in 1970, a position he held until 1981. He led Egypt during the Yom Kippur War, and also made peace overtures in 1977 to Israel that resulted in the signing of the Camp David Accords, for which he and Menachem Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Sadat was assassinated by members of his own armed forces during a military parade on 6 October 1981.

Said, Edward – Born 1935 in Jerusalem. Said was a well-known author, scholar, and Palestinian activist. Said taught at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Yale universities, and wrote extensively on the subject of the rights of the Palestinian people. He became an independent member of the Palestine National Council in 1977, but resigned in 1991 over Yasser Arafat’s support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. In 2002, he helped establish the Palestinian National Initiative in an attempt to provide an alternative to the Palestinian National Authority and militant groups. Said was the author of the book, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1980). Edward Said died in New York in 2003 of leukemia.

Sharon, Ariel (Ariel Scheinermann) – Born in 1928 in Kfar Malal village, in the British Mandate of Palestine. Ariel Sharon has been a controversial figure throughout his political career.  When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 Ariel Sharon was the defense minister. Sharon gave the command for a Lebanese Christian force under the leadership of the Maronite Phalange militia to enter Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila to remove PLO members. Between 460 and 3,500 Palestinians were killed in what became known as the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Controversy continues about Sharon's responsibility in the event. He has encountered harsh criticism by Palestinians for impeding the peace process, and from Israel’s political right for being too accommodating in pulling out of occupied areas. Sharon has served in Israeli governments in many different capacities and in 2001 was elected prime minister. In August 2005, under Sharon’s direction, Israel began its controversial withdrawal from settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Although the Disengagement Plan was seen as a positive step in some quarters, negative reaction among Israel’s political right wing threatens Sharon with an uncertain political future.

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