IN 1974 he came before the United Nations Assembly as a pistol-packing guerrilla, challenging the accepted order. Now he is president-elect of the Palestinian Authority, symbolic of the new order.
But the new order is still in the making, and the shoo-in election of Yasser Arafat was not the only interesting thing that happened in the Palestinian election.
One was the turnout - more than 80 percent of the 1 million eligible voters - in the face of a boycott organized by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and secular radicals. As with the first free elections in South Africa and in the former Soviet Union, the Palestinians displayed an exhilaration about the ballot box that could well shame some of the older democracies.
Interesting also were the signs of dissatisfaction with Mr. Arafat's authoritarianism.
Arafat's main election opponent, Samiha Khalil, won nearly 10 percent of the vote - amazing against the father of the revolution. She is one of the new Palestinians, as described in a book of that name by John and Janet Wallach; foster parent to widows and children of those killed in the intifadah (uprising); member of a faction called the Democratic Front, which opposed the peace treaty. She is one of the emerging women among the Palestinians, although less well-known than Hanan Ashrawi.
Mrs. Ashrawi, a critic of Arafat's human rights record, was one of several independents who won election to the 88-member Palestinian Council, the embryonic parliament, against a Palestine Liberation Organization Fatah slate.
In general, critics of Arafat's dictatorial style did better than expected. So did women, challenging the traditional role of Arab women.
Hidden inside the Palestinian political revolution, the election appears to confirm, is a social revolution, and women are in the vanguard of that revolution. In 1989, Zahira Kamal, another woman activist, said that once they achieved their liberation, Palestinian women, unlike Algerian women, would not permit themselves to be relegated back to household drudgery.
So the election as described by one victorious independent, Jonathan Kuttab of East Jerusalem, was a vote for change, a vote for participation and against being dictated to from above, whether that ''above'' be Israeli or Palestinian.
Arafat should savor his victory while he can, for his days of one-man rule over the Palestinians appear to be numbered.