Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

This term refers to the umbrela organization encompassing most of the Palestinian national organizations. The PLO was universally recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians.

Definition

The term "Palestine Liberation Organization" (hereinafter, PLO) refers to the umbrella organization encompassing most of the Palestinian national organizations1. Since the 1970s, the PLO is recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Background

The PLO was founded by an Egyptian initiative in 1964, with the purpose of representing the Palestinian Diaspora as an umbrella organization for the Palestinian political movements. After the 1967 war, the organization became less dependent on Egypt and the other Arab countries, and gained popularity and legitimacy among Palestinians.

In 1968, the Fatah movement took control of the organization, and Yasser Arafat, the leader and founder of Fatah, was elected chairman of the PLO Executive Committee.

In 1964, the organization published the Palestinian National Charter (which was revised in 1968 after Fatah took over the organization). According to the Charter, the main goal of the organization was the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of Israel. The PLO did not recognize the state of Israel nor the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in mandatory Palestine, and conducted an armed struggle against Zionist targets in Israel and around the world.

The PLO's "Phased Plan" (6/74) maintained that the PLO would govern all parts of Palestine that become liberated, with the aim of continuing the armed struggle against Israel. Some interpreted this statement as proof that the organization was willing to consider territorial compromise because of it realized that destroying Israel was unfeasible.2

At the Rabat Summit Conference (10/74) the PLO was recognized by the Arab countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. As a result, Arafat was invited to speak before the UN General Assembly, and the PLO was given observer status at the UN.

Israel did not recognize the PLO and perceived it to be a terrorist organization. In its refusal to deliberate with the PLO, either directly or indirectly, Israel searched for alternative frameworks for resolving the Palestinian problem.

In the Framework for Peace in the Middle East, which was part of the 1978 Camp David accords (9/78), Israel and Egypt established the initial format for the Israeli-Palestinian political process, without direct negotiations with Palestinian representatives. Israel refused to meet with PLO representatives in the Madrid Conference (10/91) as well.

Following the outbreak of the first Intifada (12/87), Arafat declared Palestinian independence before the Palestinian National Council (11/15/88). He based this declaration on UN General Assembly Resolution 181. This was also the first time resolution 242 was mentioned (see Resolutions 242 and 338).

The collapse of the "Jordanian option" as a solution to the Palestinian problem (7/88), and the failure to reach an agreement with local Palestinian representatives, changed Israel's mindset regarding direct negotiations with the PLO.

The Declaration of Principles (9/93) was a historical turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relations. In the exchange of letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist and renounced the use of terrorism, while Israel recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians people. The exchange of letters brought to the signing ceremony on the south lawn of the White House in Washington (9/13/93).

In accordance with the Declaration of Principles, the Gaza Jericho agreement (5/94) established the Palestinian Authority which was composed of primarily PLO representatives. As a result of the agreement, Arafat returned to the Gaza Strip (7/94) and held the positions of Fatah chairman, chairman of the PLO, and chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Currently Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) serves as chairman of the PLO and chairman of the Palestinian Authority.


1 The prominent organizations in the PLO are: Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (until '84), al-Saika (until '84), Arab Liberation Front, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian Liberation Front.

2 Others interpreted the Oslo process as simply an additional stage in the "phased plan" to destroy Israel.

More Sources
Rubin, Barry, Revolution until Victory: The Politics and History of the PLO, Harvard University Press, 1994.

Rubin, Barry and Judith Rubin Colp, Yassir Arafat: A Political Biography, Oxford University Press, 2003.