Yasser Arafat: Symbol of Lurching Struggle for Palestinian Statehood With PM-Nobel-Peace Prize, Bjt

JERUSALEM (AP) _ For three decades, Yasser Arafat has almost singlehandedly controlled the Palestinians' struggle for a state of their own. Now, the man who ran a guerrilla war against Israel and called himself a freedom fighter has won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel committee awarded the prize to Arafat and to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel, a country that branded Arafat a terrorist and his Palestine Liberation Organization a terror group.

Arafat, 65, has come to embody both the sufferings of a people displaced by repeated warfare and the bloody excesses of guerrillas who murdered to gain world attention.

''I am a freedom fighter. I am sure this is the way that history will remember me,'' he once told reporters.

After tirelessly working for the creation of a Palestinian state, Arafat finally decided to take the risk of accepting limited self-rule in Gaza and Jericho. He says those two pieces of territory will eventually yield a Palestinian state.

His accord with Rabin, signed in September 1993 on the White House lawn, is the kind of deal he would have once derided as surrender.

Arafat, with his trademark kaffiyeh draped in the shape of a map of Palestine, was the only figure with sufficient stature among the world's 5.5 million Palestinians to make such compromise.

A dealmaker, he was never afraid of compromise and that ultimately led him to the peace table with Israel - willing to take a small piece of land and try to build a Palestinian state.

But Arafat was often indecisive, unwilling to provoke his enemies with unpopular moves. It kept him alive, but threatened to kill the peace.

His ambivalence was at the core of the crisis with Israel over the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Islamic fundamentalists who oppose peace with Israel. Arafat neither shared power with the Muslim militants nor used his police to stop the attacks on Israelis that continued after the peace accord.

The choice of Arafat for the peace prize was controversial and was expected to draw criticism because of PLO terror attacks during its war with Israel.

The 1978 peace prize shared by Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt also provoked controversy. Then, it was Begin who was called a terrorist for his tactics as a member of the underground army trying to oust Britain from Palestine to make way for a Jewish state.

Arafat wrote the book on navigating the no-holds-barred politics of the Middle East.

The Egyptian-educated engineer appears an unlikely survivor, standing at 5- feet-2-inches, paunchy and balding.

Born to a prominent Palestinian merchant family in Cairo on Aug. 4, 1929, Arafat began dedicating his life to the Palestinian cause in Kuwait in 1958.

His Fatah faction of the PLO wrested control of the Palestinian cause from Arab leaders after their resounding defeat by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Arafat's name became a household word in the early 1970s, when Palestinians launched a series of headline-grabbing hijackings and terrorist attacks to publicize their struggle. The most notorious killed 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 1974 he was invited to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

''Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun,'' Arafat said, wearing battle fatigues and an empty holster. ''Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.''

The PLO was shattered twice - by King Hussein in Jordan in 1970 when its state-within-a-state started to challenge his authority and again when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, scattering the PLO across the Arab world.

But the Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in 1987 resurrected his fortunes.

Over the years he revealed little of his personal life.

His closest friends in the struggle were killed either by Israel or rival Arabs. Arafat himself survived repeated assassination attempts and a 1992 plane crash.

In November 1991, he married his Christian secretary, Suha Tawil, 28.

In trying to improve his image with the Israelis, Arafat went so far as to tell the daily Yedioth Ahronoth that he liked to cook rice pilaf, darn his own socks and relax with a Western movie or Mickey Mouse cartoon.

But Israelis are still wary about him. Arafat reinforced lingering distrust by telling an audience in a South African mosque in May that Palestinians must wage a ''jihad,'' or holy war, to liberate Jerusalem.

Arafat's public march toward peace started in November 1988, when he accepted U.N. resolutions implicitly recognizing the Jewish state. Then, in perhaps his worst blunder, he lost Western and Arab backing by supporting Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.