The Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, was first founded in 1964 during a summit in Cairo, Egypt. The organization’s initial goals were to unite various Arab groups and create a liberated Palestine in Israel. Over time, the PLO has embraced a broader role, claiming to represent all Palestinians while running the Palestinian National Authority (PA). Although the PLO wasn’t known to be violent during its early years, the organization became associated with controversial tactics, terrorism and extremism.
Origins of the PLO
The PLO emerged in response to various compounding events that took place in the Middle East.
In 1948, Israel became an independent state, which resulted in more than 750,000 Palestinians fleeing their homeland. The subsequent 1948 war set the stage for years of tension and violence between Arabs and Israelis.
Around this time, Palestinians were spread out among several countries, lacked formal leadership and weren’t well organized. This limited their political influence and presence.
During the Arab League Summit in 1964, Palestinians came together to create one central organization – the PLO. The PLO’s Palestine National Council (PNC) was first comprised of Palestinian civilians and helped define the group’s goals, which included the destruction of Israel. The organization’s first chairman was Ahmad Shuqayrī.
Yasser Arafat Steps In
After the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel emerged victorious, the PLO began to ramp up their presence.
A group known as Fatah, led by military leader Yasser Arafat, started to infiltrate and dominate the organization. In 1969, Arafat became Chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee, holding the title until his death in 2004.
Starting in the late 1960s, the PLO launched attacks on Israel from its bases in Jordan. In 1971, the PLO was forced to relocate from Jordan, shifting its headquarters to Lebanon.
While in Lebanon, factions within the PLO began to neglect Israeli military target attacks and instead carried out terrorism plots, including high-profile bombings and aircraft hijackings. In 1974, Arafat called for the PLO’s attacks on targets outside of Israel to stop, as part of a plan to gain global acceptance and legitimacy.
In October 1974, the Arab League recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” and granted it full membership. A month later, Arafat became the first non-state leader to address the United Nations General Assembly.
In 1982, the PLO leadership moved its bases to Tunisia, where it remained until it relocated to Gaza in 1994.
The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, started in 1987 and ended around 1991.
This period of bloody conflict triggered a peace process, known as the Oslo Accords. Arafat signed a series of treaties with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The two leaders were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
The first Oslo Accord agreement was signed in 1993, and the second in 1995.
The Oslo Accords established the Palestinian National Authority (PA), which functions as an agency of the PLO, to govern parts of Gaza and the West Bank. They also created a timetable for Israel to gradually withdraw from key territories.
In 1994, Arafat returned to Gaza to head up the PA, after being exiled for 27 years.
However, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians was short-lived. The Second Intifada, another period of bloody conflict, took place from 2000 to 2005.
Hamas Takes Over
In 2006, a Sunni Islamist militant group called Hamas won the majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
Conflict between the ruling Fatah and Hamas led to violence in 2007, when Hamas defeated Fatah in a battle for Gaza. The two PA areas were run by separate factions, with Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling Gaza.
In 2014, Hamas and Fatah agreed to a deal that would form a unified national Palestinian government.
Hamas has a reputation of carrying out terrorist acts. In fact, many countries consider the group to be a terrorist organization, while others regard them as a political party.
Hamas has been on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations since 1997.
Structure of PLO
The PLO consists of the following main bodies:
The Palestine National Council (PNC): This branch of the PLO is considered the highest authority. Among its many responsibilities, the PNC sets policies, elects the Executive Committee and Board of Council and makes membership decisions.
The Executive Committee: This committee oversees daily affairs, maintains a budget and represents the PLO internationally. Members carry out policies set forth by the PNC and Central Council.
Central Council: The Central Council has 124 members that serve as an intermediary between the PNC and the Executive Committee.
Palestine Liberation Army (PLA): This official military branch of the PLO was first created in 1964.
In 2011, the PA made a bid for full member-state status in the UN. Although this attempt failed, the UN General Assembly voted to make Palestine a “non-member observer state” in 2012.
This distinction allows Palestinians to participate in General Assembly debates and improves their odds of eventually joining UN agencies.
In another step forward, the PLO became a member of the International Criminal Court in 2015.
Currently, Mahmoud Abbas serves as the PLO’s chairman and president of the PA. Abbas is considered relatively moderate and has voiced opposition to violence in past conflicts.
The PLO’s present efforts have focused on achieving international recognition of Palestinian statehood. However, a two-state solution is a controversial plan that Israel’s Prime Minister and the United States both oppose.
In fact, in 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, generating disapproval among Arabs and other allies.
Palestine Liberation Organization, Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations New York.
What is the Palestinian Liberation Organization? How about Fatah and the Palestinian Authority? Vox Media.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), FAS Intelligence Resource Program.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization, The History Learning Site.
Palestinian Territories Profile, BBC.
Palestinian Territories – Timeline, BBC.