Yasser Arafat studied civil engineering in Cairo. He was a student leader in the then Egypt-governed Gaza area. During the Second Arab-Israeli War in 1956, Yasser Arafat fought against Israel as an officer and explosives expert in the Egyptian army.
A founder of the Palestinian Fatah and the head of the organisation’s armed branch, in 1965 he became Fatah’s leader. In 1969, Mr Arafat took the helm of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), originally based in Jordan. He led the fight against Israel, resorting to terrorist methods in the process. In 1974 the PLO acquired the status of an observer at the UN.
In 1988, during the first intifada, or the Palestinian uprising, Arafat proclaimed the independent State of Palestine and was elected president of this yet non-existing country. In the same year he gave a speech at a special UN session in Geneva declaring that the PLO renounced terrorism and supporting “the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to live in peace and security”.
The declaration led to peace talks with Israel and, ultimately, the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The agreement created the Palestinian National Authority, later led by Arafat as President (1996). However, the peace process collapsed, with the second intifada breaking out in 2000.
Shimon Peres was born in Vishneva (now in Belarus) as Szymon Perski. A long-standing veteran of Israeli politics, he has served on many occasions as a government minister and twice as prime minister. Currently Shimon Peres holds the office of the President of Israel. A co-creator and long-term activist of the Israel Labour Party, he later became one of the founders of the centre party Kadima.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs in Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet, Shimon Peres participated in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
He fought in the Arab-Israeli War in 1948-1949, and in 1950 became a Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Mr Peres also served as a vice-minister and Minister of Defence from 1974 to 1977. Minister of Foreign Affairs (1986-1988), he led the opposition in the Knesset for the two following years.
Shimon Peres served twice as head of the Labour Party’s government (1984-1986 and 1995-1996).
Yitzhak Rabin was Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces in the period 1964-1968 and commanded the country’s military during the Six-Day War. He twice served as Prime Minister (1974-1977 and 1992-1995). Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish extremist who opposed concessions to the Palestinians.
Having decided to retire from active military duty, Mr Rabin was appointed Israel’s Ambassador to the US. He came back to Israel to become a member of the Labour Party, later nominated Prime Minister. He was Minister of Defence in the National Unity Government, 1984-1990. Yitzhak Rabin coordinated withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. He decisively responded to the outbreak of the first intifada.
In 1992, after the Labour victory in the parliamentary election, he once more served as Prime Minister. As the head of the government, Yitzhak Rabin initiated peace talks with Syria and the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and supplemented two years later, provided a basis for the creation of the Palestinian Authority (later renamed into the Palestinian National Authority) at the Gaza Strip, subsequently extended to the West Bank of Jordan.