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Two Peoples, One Land

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Sunday, May 12, 2002
What now?
Snapshot of a region: The people | The leaders | The economies | Prospects for a Palestinian state


Yasser Arafat Yasser Arafat
Born in 1929 in Jerusalem, Gaza or Cairo, depending on the source. His mother died when he was 4 and he lived with relatives in Jerusalem and Cairo as a child.

In the 1940s, he smuggled weapons from Egypt to support Palestinian fighters against the British and Jews.

He received a degree in civil engineering from Cairo University (1951), where he was president of the Palestinian Students Union.

He fought with the Egyptians when they were routed in the 1956 Suez conflict.

Arafat formed Fatah in 1958, which came under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964. He became chairman in 1969 of the PLO, headquartered in Jordan. Goal of group was the "liberation of Palestine," and factions within the PLO have been responsible for numerous attacks on Israelis.

In 1970, Jordan expelled the PLO, and Arafat moved his organization to Lebanon.

Israel, under the military direction of Ariel Sharon, drove Arafat out of Lebanon in 1982, and the PLO leader moved his exile to Tunisia.

Arafat shifted his focus toward diplomacy in the late 1980s; he signed Oslo Declaration in 1993 and returned from exile to Gaza. He agreed to drop PLO language calling for destruction of Israel. Received Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

He has been the chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks since 1993.

space Ariel Sharon Ariel Sharon
Born in 1928 in the British Mandate town of Kfar Malal.

At 14, Sharon joined the Jewish defense group Haganah, which carried out attacks against the British and Palestinians. He fought in the 1948 war.

In 1953, he formed the "101" special commando unit, which carried out "retaliatory operations," according to the his Israeli biography. Critics say the group attacked Palestinian civilians.

He commanded paratroopers in the 1956 Suez conflict. Critics accuse him of killing civilians and Egyptian troops that had surrendered.

He was defense minister during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which Lebanese militia attacked the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinian refugees and Lebanese. An Israeli report found Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacre, and he was forced to resign.

As minister of housing and construction from 1990-92, Sharon was responsible for expanded development of controversial settlements in the occupied territories.

He became chairman of the Likud party when Benjamin Netanyahu resigned in 1999, and was elected prime minister in 2001.

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