Last updated on: 5/16/2008 4:22:00 PM PST

What Is the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Palestinian Authority (PA), on its website (accessed Jan. 1, 2003), provided the following description of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO):

"The PLO was created in Jerusalem in 1964, following a decision of the League of Arab States, with the first meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC). The first Council, made up of 422 leading Palestinian representatives, adopted the Palestinian National Charter and formally created the PLO, headed by a Palestinian lawyer who had worked for several Arab governments as a diplomat, Ahmed Shuquairy.

The creation of the PLO marked a change in attitude among Palestinians: In the past, they saw Arab unification as a solution to their problem. The failure in 1961 of unification between Egypt and Syria on one hand and the success of the struggle for national liberation in Algeria in 1962 on the other, were decisive factors in their new awareness.

The highest body in the PLO is the PNC which appoints the Executive Committee which handles regular business between sessions. This has remained unchanged since its inception. Several changes have been introduced in the meantime, however, mainly after the 1967 war. Until then, the PLO had been extremely dependent on the Arab states, and many organizations were created in parallel. After the 1967 defeat, and because they had been alone in resisting occupation, they joined the PLO: two of them, the Fatah and the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] had as of 1968 one half of the seats in the PNC, and Ahmed Shuquairy resigned. One year later, Yasser Arafat, Fatah leader, was appointed Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO and, in 1971, he became the General Commander of the Palestine Forces.

Recognized as representative of the Palestinian people by all Arab States at their Summit in 1974, the PLO was given observer status at the United Nations the same year and became a full member in its own right of the League of Arab States in 1976. However, this has not prevented some Arab states from creating parallel PLO's whenever its policy seemed to distance itself too much from their own. This occurred in 1978, when Iraq spurred the creation in Baghdad of a 'Rejection Front' (see Abu Nidal and PFLP-GC [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command]), and later in 1983 in Damascus when Syria sponsored the 'Palestinian National Salvation Front' (see DFLP [Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]), both attempts, however, were destined to fail.

In western Europe, Spain was the first country granting diplomatic status to a PLO representative, followed later by Portugal, Austria, France, Italy and Greece.

Until 1990, the PLO had two main sources of financing: annual contributions from Arab states and a tax varying between 3 and 6% levied on the income of Palestinians. Of all countries, Saudi Arabia was the greatest and most regular contributor. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the 'active neutrality' adopted by the PLO had as a consequence that the Gulf countries reduced their contributions to nearly nothing hence leading the PLO close to banruptcy. According to some, this would have been the reason why the PLO signed the Oslo Agreements so fast, despite the fact that they were so unbalanced from the Palestinian point of view.

The PLO Executive Committee is made up at present of 18 members, each heading a department. The Political Department (the 'Foreign Ministry' of the PLO) is headed by Faruk Qaddumi, who alongside Arafat was one of the founders of the Fatah. However, Faruk Qaddumi did not recognise the process launched in Oslo, and hence did not participate in the foundation of the Palestinian National Authority in the occupied territories."

Jan. 1, 2003 - Palestinian Authority (PA) 

Dilip Hiro, MA, journalist and author, in his 2003 book The Essential Middle East / A Comprehensive Guide, wrote the following description of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO):

"An umbrella body, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was set up in early 1964, to enable Palestinians to play their part in liberating Palestine and determining their own future. The decision to form the PLO was taken at a summit of the Arab League, which, by virtue of an annex to its charter, had assumed the right to select an Arab Palestinian to take part in its work. The PLO held its first congress in May-June 1964 in East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control, where it adopted the Palestine National Charter, which called for the establishment of a democratic and secular state in the Palestine constituted by the British mandate. Each of the affiliated bodies was represented on the Palestine National Council (PNC) which elected a central council and an executive committee.

The PLO's importance increased in the aftermath of the defeat suffered by the Arab states in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War. A change in the charter in 1968, which declared armed struggle to be the only way to liberate Palestine, paved the way for the affiliation of radical groups. In 1969 Yasser Arafat, leader of Fatah, the largest of the parties affiliated to the PLO, became its chairman, replacing Yahaya Hamuda, who had taken over from Ahmad Shuqairi after the June 1967 war. Following the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, the PNC adopted the idea of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories as a transient stage for the liberation of all mandate Palestine in June 1974. Later that year the Arab League recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and granted it membership in the League.

Arafat participated in a debate on the Palestine question at the United Nations General Assembly in mid-November 1974. On 22 November U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3236, describing the PLO as 'the representative of the Palestinian people,' reaffirmed the Palestinians' right to self-determination and national independence and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property. The motion was carried by eighty-nine votes to eight, with thirty-seven abstentions. Dr. Zehdi Terzi became the PLO's first representative to the United Nations, and he was invited to a U.N. Security Council session on the Palestine issue in December to participate in the debate. On 22 January 1975 the U.N. Security Council endorsed the General Assembly's stand by adopting a resolution affirming the Palestinians' right to establish an independent state. But the resolution was vetoed by the U.S. administration of President Gerald Ford (1974-1977).

By the late 1970's the PLO had won the formal recognition of over 100 countries, far more than Israel. Its annual budget of $500 million consisted of $350 million in grants by oil-rich Arab states and $150 million in indirect Palestine taxes collected by the Arab states, mainly in the Gulf, all of which were paid into the Palestine National Fund. It commanded some 23,000 armed guerrillas and 8,000-10,000 troops of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA). The groups affiliated to the PLO were the Arab Liberation Front, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, the Palestine Communist Party, the Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Popular Struggle Front, and Saiqa. The PLO's affiliates also included fourteen organizations for students, workers, women, journalists, lawyers, doctors, etc."

2003 - Dilip Hiro, MA 

The Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, as posted on their website as of 1999, contained the following description of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO):

"The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been the embodiment of the Palestinian national movement. It is a broad national front, or an umbrella organization, comprised of numerous organizations of the resistance movement, political parties, popular organizations, and independent personalities and figures from all sectors of life. The Arab Summit in 1974 recognized the PLO as the 'sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people' and since then the PLO has represented Palestine at the United Nations, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and in many other fora. In addition to its broad national and political goals, the PLO has dealt with numerous tasks with regard to the life of the Palestinian people in their main communities and throughout the world through the establishment of several institutions in such realms as health, education and social services. As such, the PLO is more than a national liberation movement striving to achieve the national goals of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

The PLO was established in 1964 with Arab support. At that time, the PLO was headed by Mr. Ahmed Al-Shukairy and, since then, has undergone significant changes in its composition, leading bodies, political orientation, and even the locales of its headquarters. The leading bodies of the PLO are the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Central Council, and the Executive Committee. Political pluralism has remained a defining feature of the organization, as have democratic internal dialogue and attempts to reach decisions by consensus in its bodies, recognizing the presence of many differing views and competing alliances throughout different periods. In 1968, the organization witnessed the beginning of the engagement of the Feda’iyeen organizations (armed struggle organizations), particularly Fateh. In 1969, Yasser Arafat, leader of Fateh, became the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO and, in 1971, he became the General Commander of the Palestine Forces. His name has been synonymous with the PLO and with the Palestinian national movement."

1999 - Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations