Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and chair of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), told a packed ARCO Forum he will continue to work toward peace in the Middle East despite opposition from Palestinian and Israeli extremists.
Approximately 800 students, faculty and dignitaries flooded the Forum at the Institute of Politics (IOP), as president Neil I., Rudenstine introduced Arafat for his first address at an American university.
"I refuse to read what they have prepared for me," Arafat said, as he stood at the podium and set aside the 10-page speech prepared for him. "I want to speak from my heart to your heart."
Arafat arrived at 6:30 p.m. for the speech scheduled at 6 p.m., late as he has been for many of his appearances during this visit to the U.S.
In a 20-minute address, Arafat emphasized the importance and complexity of the Middle East peace efforts.
"Peace is not only something to sign in the White House. It is something more difficult. It needs all of our efforts together, and it needs your help," Arafat said, referring to the peace contract he signed with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the White House last year. Rabin will be speaking at the IOP on Nov. 15.
Arafat said peace in the Middle East will come from permanent and long lasting solutions to the crises facing Israelis and Palestinians.
"We have no other choice but to continue in the peace process," Arafat said.
"Before the Jews were our cousins," he added, alluding to the Biblical origins of both religions. "Now they are not only our cousins, they are our neighbors as well."
Arafat said he faces many obstacles in peacefully establishing Palestinian rule, citing the activities of various "fanatical groups."
"Everyone has to respect the law and what had been signed by me because I had signed is not representing me but the whole Palestinians," Arafat said.
The Palestinian leader emphasized the importance of moving forward toward lasting peace rather than becoming bogged down in internal politics.
"This is the only way for our next generation to live peacefully and freely in the land of peace," Arafat said. "What is important is to push forward the peace process very quickly."
Without reference to the specifics of the Palestinian state, Arafat emphasized the importance of the peace process.
"We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of this peace," he added.
Following his relatively short speech. Arafat opened the floor to "open questions without any hesitation."
"Please don't squeeze me too much with your questions, though," he laughingly warned the audience.
Faculty and students lined up to ask the leader about issues such as his use of the term jihad, holy war, to refer to efforts for reconciliation.
"You have to understand our terminology. I'm a civil engineer, I'm trying to learn all the terminologies," Arafat said, explaining the term was meant to illustrate his efforts to establish the state and its social elements.
Arafat also tried to answer a concern about a phrase in the Palestinian Covenant referring to the destruction of Israel.
Although the phrase still exists in the Covenant, Arafat said he has made efforts to change attitudes toward Israel.
"The Covenant had been written before my election to the PLO," Arafat said, adding that peace efforts have changed anti-Israel attitudes.
Arafat cited a 1988 conference in Algiers, where, for the first time, he accepted the establishment of two states, acknowledging Israel's right to exist.
"We are recognizing the state of Israel," Arafat said with emphasis.
"I will not deceive you," Arafat added. "I will not cancel what has been written in the Covenant. We will make amendments," he said, likening the process to the U.S. system of Constitutional amendments.
Arafat also addressed the problems in establishing a democratic system in Palestine.
"Ours is the most difficult democracy in the world," Arafat said. "It is a democracy in the jungle of guns. In spite of this, we are proud of our democracy."
Arafat said that he intends to hold election in January of next year.
One questioner raised the issue of the question of Jerusalem, which has been a major roadblock in the peace efforts.
Arafat said he supported the idea of a capital city representing the birth and center of three different religions.
"Jerusalem should be the capital for two states, without the Berlin Wall," Arafat said.
Many audience members present said they appreciated the opportunity to see Arafat speak in person.
"I think when you read what someone says in the newspaper it's really hard to get a real sense of their sincerity," said Mike P. Dybbs '97.
"Hearing him say that he wanted to speak from his heart to our hearts was a really reassuring feeling--one you can't get from the rhetoric that comes out on television," Dybbs said. "That's really why I came to hear him today."
One student said he sympathized with the difficulty of Arafat's rule.
"I think it's really hard coming from a tradition of violence to change so much, and especially in that area of the world where there has been so much violence," said Caitlin E. Rosser '97.
"Tonight, just from listening to his remarks, it sounds like it's hard to make the people over there that he's working with cooperate," she said.
"I think I believe him more now, after he told us how hard it is," Dybbs added.
The address was aired live on CSPAN and the Associated Press, Reuters, and other press agencies such as ABC, NBC, CNN, Time, Newsweek and The Economist were present at the event