Surrounded by strife, Arafat celebrates 75

jerusalem (jps) | Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat marks his 75th birthday this week in the midst of challenges to his authority, but with no sign that he is about to relinquish any of his powers.

Arafat claims he was born in Cairo on Aug. 4, 1929, but is thought to have been born in the Gaza Strip toward the end of the month.

The meeting of the Palestinian Council of Ministers on Tuesday, Aug. 3, commenced its meeting by wishing President Arafat a happy 75th birthday, “hoping he would live a long and happy life leading the Palestinian people to realizing their goals.”

Leaders of different Palestinian security services presented reports on the performance of their departments, as well as plans to “improve or restructure them, to better serve and protect the Palestinian people,” according to a Palestinian Authority press release.

Meanwhile, outside his headquarters in Ramallah, Arafat’s reign is being challenged by the young guard of the Fatah movement — most obviously by his Gaza-based former security chief Mohammed Dahlan — who are demanding an end to widespread corruption and that the older guard that arrived along with the chairman in 1990 step aside.

“It could be the beginning of the end for him — there’s no doubt he’ll come out of this conflict weaker than going in,” said Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist about a man who has bounced back from other premature announcements of his end — following his failed challenge to King Hussein of Jordan, leading to “Black September” in 1970, and his struggle against Syria during the Lebanese war, which resulted in his expulsion to Tunisia in 1982. “But he’s clever enough not to allow any particular thing to be the issue that breaks him. I wouldn’t count him down or out.”

According to Barry Rubin, the author of a recent biography of Arafat, the ultimate symbol of Palestinian nationalism is not about to be tossed aside by his people.

“He still retains too many assets and his opposition is deeply divided … I believe he will definitely continue to be the Palestinian leader as long as he lives.”

Arafat has been synonymous with the Palestinian national cause since he formed his Fatah movement back in 1958 and then was elected chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1969.