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.