Palestinian Liberation Organization


Palestinian Liberation Organization- Essay, Research Paper

Palestinian Liberation Organization-

Can the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) justifiably claim to

be ‘the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.’?

The PLO was set up in 1964 by an Arab League decision in

response to growing signs of Palestinian unrest. The Palestinians

desired to reclaim the lands occupied by Israel, which they felt

belonged to them, as said in the Bible. In 1964 the Arab states

created the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). While it was

supposed to represent the Palestinians, in reality it represented the

views of President Nasser of Egypt, who guided the formation of the

PLO. Its first leader made wild and irresponsible threats to drive

Israelis into the sea, and had little support among Palestinians for

he was seen as a puppet of the Egyptians. In the 1960s Palestinian

students began to form their own organizations independent of control

by Arab governments (although the Syrians, Libyans, and Iraqis

continued to fund and control particular groups). Yasser Arafat

founded an independent Palestinian-run party called Fatah. He is said

to have the backing, for most of the recent past, of about 80% of

the Palestinian people. The position of the Arab governments was that

a PLO under Arab League supervision would be the best way of

satisfying the demands made by an emerging Palestinian national

consciousness. Also, it was felt that through such an organization

Arab governments could control Palestinian political activities.

Ten years after its founding, the PLO was raised to the status

of government. And in 1988, the PLO’s status was to be raised again,

this time to a state in exile. After several negotiations, Arafat

became a Terrorist leader and administrator of self-rule in the West

Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab armies did very badly against

Israel, losing 67,000 square kilometres of land. Palestinians came to

believe that if they were ever to have their land, they would have to

do it themselves. After the 1967 war, the situation changed

drastically. The resistance activities of various guerrilla

organizations, in particular the Al-Fatah and the PFLP, gained the

increasing support of the Palestinians. With Arafat at the helm from

1969 and a resistance-oriented leadership, the PLO was more effective

and played a central role in mobilizing the Palestinians and in

expanding its basis of support both at the local and international

level. The PLO became an umbrella organization for the various

guerrilla groups.

This increase in support was made possible because of the

Al-Fatah’s ability to access to the growing numbers of volunteers

from refugee camps which were freshly swollen due to the 1967 war.

Most of these refugees suffered the frustration of having been

displaced twice in a lifetime. This generated, especially among the

young, a mood of defiance, as they were ready to question the

credibility of the idea of relying on Arab governments to liberate

Palestine. Furthermore, as a consequence of the war a large proportion

of the Palestinian community became territorially united. This brought

the possibility of direct interaction between the various sections of

the Palestinian community that had previously remained isolated from

each other. On the other hand, the inability of the PLO’s conservative

leadership to promote any effective resistance operations culminated

in the eventual transfer of power to the armed-struggle orientated

guerrilla organizations. Thus initially, the PLO had a broad base of

support and represented the desires of the majority of the Palestinian


The origins of the Al-Fatah can be traced back to the mid-1950s

to a group of Palestinians that had neither relinquished their

national identity nor their belief in the necessity of liberating

Palestine via Palestinian means, rather than relying on other Arab

states. Yet, throughout the 1950s the attitude of the Palestinians

remained largely skeptical if not uncommitted to Al-Faith’s ideology.

It was in the 1960s that the situation began to change, enabling

Al-Fatah to expand its organizational structure and base. Under the

leadership of Arafat, Al-Fatah pursued an ideology which simply

stresses the nationalist struggle to liberate Palestine without

dwelling too deeply on any theoretical speculations about the nature

and form of the future Palestinian society. This tactic was essential

in gaining support against other movements, and aided the rise of

Al-Fatah to become the dominating faction within the PLO.

Militarily, the PLO has a broad base of human resources for

recruitment, almost half a million. The PLO has established

across-the-board conscription for all the Palestinian men between the

ages of 18 and 30. As a result, the PLO is able to maintain three

military forces. It could be said then that physically, it did indeed

represent a cross-section of the population. However, even if they

were significant in number, these lower-level members were not

politically potent, and did not have their voices heard. Arafat

continued on his policies, tending to brush aside differing opinions,

leaving many disenchanted with his autocratic rule.

Even before the PLO was declared a state in 1988, it functioned

much like one. This was reflected in much of the powers it possessed.

The PLO has been able to exert what amounts to sovereign powers over

the Palestinian people in war situations. The PLO represented the

Palestinians in wars with Jordan and Lebanon, and during various

incursions into Israel.

The PLO also exercises extradition powers, as on many occasions

Arab governments have turned over to the PLO Palestinians charged with

criminal activities. They were tried and sentenced by the PLO judicial

system. In these ways, it was supposed to represent the people. But

various problems within the PLO undermined its legitimacy as the sole

representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat’s ascendancy to power

on the Palestinian issue had naturally provoked rivals to try the same

tack in their own interest. As a result, maintenance of his supremacy

within the PLO became Arafat’s full time preoccupation. Far from

laying the basis for secular or democratic institutions that one day

might serve as a nation, Arafat recruited Sumni Muslims like himself

into a body known as Fatah, loyal to him on confessional lines.

Unity itself was a mere appearance, a show for the sake of

recovering honour. Far from uniting behind the Palestinian cause as

words might indicate, every Arab state in practice discriminated

against Palestinians living in its midst and had differing slants

upon the PLO. This was due to its nature as an umbrella organization,

the PLO comprises a number of resistance organizations. These

organizations entered the PLO as groups retaining their ideological

and organizational identity. Consequently, PLO institutions are

structured to reflect proportional representation of each organization

in addition to the few independent members. This has turned PLO

politics into coalition politics. The flux of events between 1967 and

1982 offered Palestinians several chances to demonstrate en masse in

favour of the PLO, if they had been so inclined. But they refrained,

not due to fatalism or cowardice, but because they may be willing to

pay lip service to Arafat, not much more than that.

Whether Palestinians outside the Occupied Territories would in

fact accept the legitimacy of the PLO as their representative was put

to test in Jordan in 1970. Jordanian frontiers were the result of

British map-making, which left half of the country’s inhabitants

Palestinian by origin. The rapid financing and arming by Arab power

holders of Arafat’s mercenaries offered these Palestinians in Jordan a

chance to repudiate King Hussein and declare themselves nationalists

for the new cause. Unexpectantly, Arafat’s power challenge threatened

to replace King Hussein with a PLO state in Jordan. After 18 months,

while tensions were running high, the PFLP hijacked international

airliners, three of which were brought at gunpoint to Jordan. Taking

advantage of this anarchic jockeying between rival Palestinian groups,

King Hussein ordered his army to subjugate the whole movement.

Palestinians in Jordan and on the West Bank gave evidence of their

real feelings by denouncing the PLO and PFLP activists to the

authorities and occasionally even helping to round them up.

David Pryce-Jones observed that “wherever they live, they

observe for themselves that the PLO is a means to enrichment and

aggrandizement for the unscrupulous few, but death and destruction for

everyone else”. Everywhere Palestinians have little alternative but to

cling to this identity, as they continue to seek what freedom they can

from power holders of different identity. In Syria, any Palestinian

who attempted to form some independent grouping would be seen as a

dangerous conspirator and summarily disposed of. This left many with

no choice but to remain silent.

Fatah itself was split by power struggles initiated by a growing

number of young Fatah activists who were trying to gain positions of

power in local society, in the process challenging the older

generation of Fatah leaders. They felt entitled to positions in the

structures Arafat was trying to create. The newest generation of

people not only refuse to be cajoled or coerced, but also have

acquired political organizing and networking skills in neighbourhoods,

refugee camps, Israeli jails, and above all, in the political bodies

created during the Intifada (uprising).

The problem of factionalism has plagued the PLO from its

formation. However, instead of adopting a policy of inclusion to

accommodate the general goals of the people, he excluded not only the

opposition but also the local Palestinians who had acted as his

proxies before his return. He had promised he would be the leader of

all Palestinians, but acted only like the President of his trusted

lieutenants. Instead of speaking of tolerance and political pluralism,

he spoke of respect for his authority.

On top of this, Arafat’s leadership was questioned. Arafat was

criticized for filling his posts with loyalists whose professional

qualifications are below average and whose reputations are tarnished.

Other appointments brought more and more Palestinians to the

conclusion that Arafat was mired in the past, and that he would

continue to follow the policy plans he had formed long ago.

The Chairman’s primacy within the PLO had been seriously

compromised as a result of the secret negotiations that had led to

the September 13, 1993 agreement with the Rabin government. The

relationship with the masses that the charismatic Arafat had enjoyed

was diminished by the concessions he made to Israel. In modern day

politics, he still remains a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, as

does the PLO. But he faces much opposition. On the left various

socialist groups think Arafat is too close to business and banking

interests and too willing to negotiate with Israel or cooperate with

America. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is one of

these. It is led by George Habash, a Christian doctor. It opposes any

negotiations. On the right some Islamic groups feel the PLO is too

willing to cooperate with socialists and is too willing to negotiate

with Israel. They feel there should be a united Palestine where Jews

could live but which would not be governed by Jews. The largest of

these groups is called HAMAS, the Islamic Resistance Movement. Several

Palestinian radicals have their own military organizations. Abu Nidal

is one of these. He is bitterly and violently opposed to the PLO for

what he sees as its moderate positions. He has carried out airplane

bombings and attacks on civilians and has tried to assassinate Arafat.

He opposes any negotiation with Israel. He is probably funded by Iraq.

In the latest turn of events, Yasser Arafat has decided to scrap

the anti-Israeli section of the PLO charter calling for its

destruction. Some have said that this is due to Israeli pressure in

the peace process, which demanded the change before new talks and

settlements. Shimon Peres has called it the “most important

ideological change of the century”, but it is sure to upset the

Islamic fundamentalists, and those in the PLO who desire a completely

pro-PLO solution. While there is so much contention and opposition to

PLO decisions, the PLO cannot be called the sole representative of the

Palestinian people, although it has a large following.


David Pryce-Jones: The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs.

Harper Perennial, New York, 1991

Peter Calrocovessi: World Politics since 1945 (5th Ed) Longman Group,

New York, 1987

Kamal Kirisai: The PLO and World Politics. Frances Pinter, London,


Muhammad Muslih : Arafat’s Dilemma


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