Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - On Thursday, when Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat finally died after days in a coma, both his friends and foes were well prepared for his inevitable passing.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Arafat, a one-time winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, would be remembered for uniting his people.
"He's the one who kept the Palestinian national identity from extinction," said Erekat in an interview with CNN shortly after Arafat's death was announced.
"He gathered the Palestinian people. He united them and he kept the national unity alive, and at the same time his legacy will be that he initiated the peace of the brave. He's the one who began the peace process. He's the one who began the two-state solution, and I think that will be his major legacy," Erekat said.
But following the breakdown of the peace process over the last four years, Arafat has managed a violent terrorist uprising against Israel.
Israeli experts said Arafat is leaving behind a much different legacy -- one of violence, chaos, and terrorism that will take many years to undo.
Arafat was moved from his compound in Ramallah to a French military hospital in Paris last week. It's still not clear what caused his death. Doctors have not issued a diagnosis.
Dubbed "the godfather of terrorism," Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Rauf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini was born in Cairo in August 1929.
Arafat joined the radical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in1951 and fled the country six years later when the group was outlawed.
In 1969, he became the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a group dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel. As PLO leader, he was responsible for some of the most heinous terror attacks worldwide, including plane hijackings, shootings, bombings and kidnappings - activities that went on for decades.
Arafat was ousted from Jordan, where he set up a mini-terrorist state within a state, after warring with government forces in 1970.
He was expelled from Lebanon in 1982, where he had established a terrorist infrastructure to launch international and cross-border attacks into Israel as well as train terrorists from around the world. He left Tunisia in 1993 for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank where he has been embroiled in a terrorist war directly against Israel for the last four years.
Since Arafat signed the first PLO-Israel agreement on the White House lawn in 1993, he has espoused his desire for peace with Israel -- along with calls for the martyrdom of his people in the effort to liberate Palestine.
And although he said his goal was the establishment of a Palestinian state and the "peace of the brave," experts here said it is his legacy of terrorism that will be remembered after he is gone.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said Palestinians will continue to idolize Arafat and follow his example by walking in the path of fighting and violence.
"He will be represented as shahid [martyr]," said Kedar, even though he dies in a hospital bed. "First of all, because he dedicated [his whole] life to the Palestinian revolt"; and secondly, because Israel will be blamed for poisoning him or for killing him by preventing him from obtaining proper medical attention, Kedar said.
"Many people will [imitate him and] quote him," said Kedar, who worked with Israeli military intelligence for 25 years. "When he passes away, people will continue to emulate his conduct."
Even though some are saying that his death will be turn a new page in Palestinian history, people still will be living under his shadow and citing his name, Kedar said, and anyone who tries to go in another direction will have a very hard task.
"He was not the prime minister. He was a leader, a real leader of the people. There is nobody to replace him in the position...He left no leader behind him - nobody to embody the [vision] as he did.
"He embodied the symbol of the wandering Palestinian," Kedar said. "His dream was to replace the state of Israel as evidenced by the last four years."
Calling him the "godfather of the current age of terrorism," professor Barry Rubin of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, said Arafat is leaving behind a three-fold disaster for his people.
"[Arafat] left the Palestinians in a mess because he's thrown away the best chance for them to get a state four years ago and instead led [them into] violence and heavy losses," said Rubin, co-author of a book on the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography.
Arafat also left the Palestinians with "an organizational legacy of anarchy, chaos, competing organizations [and] an ideological legacy of extremism and glorification of violence," Rubin said.
Arafat groomed no heir apparent and tightly held the reins of his several security services, all of which reported directly to him and were not inter-connected. He also clutched the purse strings of the PA, until two years ago when he was forced by international pressure to relinquish some of his power.
"Arafat was a very big terrorist with very good public relations [skills]," said Rubin. "[He was] actually the man who proved how easy it is to fool the West."
For years Arafat jetted around the world raising money for weapons and his cause, rarely spending more than one night in the same place. His hard work paid off.
Considered one of the wealthiest men in the world, he placed sixth on Forbes' annual listing of "Kings, Queens, and Despots" in 2003 with an estimated fortune of $300 million.
He personally oversaw the disbursement of billions of dollars of international aid, which was dumped into the PA coffers since 1994 and most likely used some of it to fund terrorism.
A year ago, the CBS program "60 Minutes" alleged that Arafat had squirreled away some $1 billion in Palestinian funds and another billion from Israeli tax revenues. He was also allegedly sending $100,000 a month to his dear wife Suha, who has lived in Paris throughout the last four years.
U.S. officials have been quoted as estimating his worth at between $1 and $3 billion, while many of his people were languishing in refugee camps and were unemployed in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Despite his wealth, Arafat himself lived a modest lifestyle, which kept him personally above criticism by the Palestinian masses, despite the charges of corruption that plagued his Palestinian Authority.
Israel was able to prove that Arafat had personally authorized payment to terrorists when it captured truckloads of documents in a raid on Arafat's Mukata office compound in Ramallah in 2002.
Ramon Bennett, author of Philistine: The Great Deception, said it would take 100 years to undo the damage that Arafat has done to his own people.
His legacy was to create a "whole generation of death culture," said Bennett. "He's done more than anyone to promote terrorism."
Since the beginning of the peace process, official Palestinian Authority textbooks and official television were filled with inflammatory and not peaceful material against Israel, its peace partner.
"It's going to take 100 years to get it out of the [Palestinians]. There is so much hatred. It's all in the books [and] television," Bennett said. They have been bred with such hatred, he said.
According to Bennett, Arafat never had any intentions of making peace with Israel. "He's a man of deceit. He used the pretext of peace to get more."
Bennett noted that despite Arafat's history, news commentators have a hard time viewing him as a terrorist. "They cannot accept that he ever did anything wrong," he said.
Israel began to clip Arafat's wings when it grounded him by targeting his helicopters and launching pads in Gaza in December 2001 in retaliation for a double suicide bombing in Jerusalem and two weeks later declared him "irrelevant" and severed all ties with him.
Later, Israeli troops penned Arafat into his Mukata office compound in Ramallah, where his has been under virtual house arrest for more than two years.
In September 2003, the Israeli cabinet took the decision to "remove" Arafat as an obstacle to reconciliation but never took steps to do so.
The most frequent visitor to former President Bill Clinton's White House, Arafat was shunned by current President Bush, who refused to even accidentally run into him in the halls of the United Nations.
In the end, even Clinton blamed Arafat for the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and accused him of standing in the way of his achieving his own legacy as Middle East peacemaker.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.