PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION


PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (PLO), Palestinian organization founded in May 1964 at a Palestinian Congress held in East Jerusalem (then under Jordanian rule) following intensive efforts of Ahmad al-Shuqeiri, until then the representative of the Palestinian Arabs in the League of Arab States. The Congress was convened under strict Jordanian control and received the personal congratulations of King *Hussein, who indicated his intention to give full patronage to the newly established organization. The Congress, comprised mainly of senior Palestinian figures from Jordan and the Gaza Strip, approved the "Palestinian [Pan] National Charter" (almīthāq al-qawmī al-filasṭīnī) and the PLO's organic law, giving decisive powers to its Chairman Shuqeiri, including the appointment of the Executive Committee members.

The foundation of the PLO, which was fully supported by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel *Nasser, and reluctantly acquiesced to by King Hussein of Jordan, was the result of two separate processes: an authentic rise of self-assertion and revolutionary trends among young Palestinian refugees, and inter-Arab circumstances. Attentive to growing frustration and an urge for autonomous action for the liberation of Palestine among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, already in 1959 Nasser suggested the establishment of a "Palestinian Entity" – a political organization that would represent the Palestinian national cause in the international arena. The Jordanian position reflected concern lest any expression of Palestinian nationalism might arouse separatist tendencies among the Palestinians in the kingdom, who constituted a majority of the population and could threaten the very existence of the Hashemite regime. In the strained relations between Nasser and his archrival, Abdel Karim Qassem, then the ruler of Iraq, Nasser's call was challenged by Qassem, who called for establishing a militant Palestinian organization which would operate against Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

By the end of 1963 Nasser's prestige as champion of pan-Arabism had reached an impasse following Syria's secession in September 1961 from the union with Egypt (the United Arab Republic) and his entanglement in a costly and unsuccessful military involvement in Yemen. In addition, he came under increasing pressures from Syria's new Bath regime, which urged him to go to war with Israel over the ensuing inauguration of its National Water Carrier exploiting the Jordan River's water to irrigate new areas in the northern Negev.

Nasser perceived these as pressures detrimental to his priorities – unity first, then total war against Israel – and Egypt's security, repeating his rejection of an untimely war against Israel that could end with a disaster for the Arabs. To escape the trap set for him by the Syrian regime, Nasser called for an Arab summit conference in Cairo, which was held in January 1964. The summit, which was meant to preserve Nasser's control of collective Arab action against Israel and his all-Arab leadership, approved a plan of preventing Israel's use of the Jordan River's waters by diverting its tributaries originating in Lebanon and Syria in other directions. In view of Israel's possible military response against the diversion plan, the summit established a Joint Arab Command to supervise military preparations for the imminent war with Israel. The summit also discussed the issue of establishing a Palestinian Entity, but could not reach an agreement on this. Jordan adhered to its objection to the proposed institution on political grounds. Other states, such as Syria and Algeria, wanted a militant organization that would wage a popular armed struggle against Israel, while the Saudis feared it would be merely an Egyptian political instrument which would be used against them. The Arab summit thus refrained from officially approving the establishment of a Palestinian Entity and, instead, instructed Shuqeiri to examine the attitudes among the Palestinians regarding such an idea, without even mentioning the word "entity" in its decisions. Nonetheless, the decision enabled Shuqeiri to embark on a series of visits to Palestinian communities in the Arab states, which indicated their strong support for the idea fostered by Nasser. The enthusiasm with which Shuqeiri was received by Palestinians in Jordan apparently convinced King Hussein that his best choice was to coopt the Palestinian Entity project rather than resist it.

Although the second Arab summit conference, held in Alexandria in September 1964, approved the establishment of the PLO, the organization remained highly controversial. It was criticized by militant Palestinian organizations, such as Fatah, and Arab regimes alike. In the coming three years the PLO, headed by Shuqeiri, was the subject of much discontent and bitter attacks by almost all the states. Seen as Nasser's protégé, the PLO could not escape its image as an instrument serving Nasser's Arab policies and primarily to legitimize the latter's desire to avoid war with Israel. In addition, though the PLO was meant to be merely a political organization, Shuqeiri constantly pushed the limits initially set for PLO activities in a military direction, if not armed capability. Challenged by Fatah, which began its military operations against Israel in early January 1965, Shuqeiri managed to bring about the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Army, which comprised three regular brigades deployed in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq (Ein Jallout, Hittin, and Qadisiyya, respectively, named after great historic Muslim victorious battles). However, these brigades were fully subordinated to the military establishment of these states while the PLO maintained only a nominal command. By late 1965, Shuqeiri had become anathema to the Jordanian authorities due to his inexorable efforts to propagate the establishment of Palestinian recruitment centers in Jordan on behalf of the PLO, openly challenging the Jordanian monarch's authority and leading to arrests of PLO activists there. The growing tension between King Hussein and Shuqeiri coincided with the collapse of the summit-generated detente in inter-Arab relations as of late 1965, which led to Nasser's return to his aggressive policies in the inter-Arab arena, especially against the Western-backed monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Until the June 1967 War, the Palestinian National Council (PNC – a sort of parliament of the Palestinian people) convened twice more in Gaza. In the meantime, Fatah and other newly established Palestinian guerrilla groups supported by Syria, won some prestige for their warfare against Israel, leading to further marginalization of Shuqeiri and his PLO, who lost even Nasser's interest.

In the aftermath of the 1967 defeat, Shuqeiri became a burden for Nasser as well as to Palestinian military and political activists. At the Khartoum Summit Conference convened in September of that year, Shuqeiri found himself isolated in his effort to pressure the Arab leaders to include a fourth "no" in their resolutions, namely that there should be no compromise of Palestinian national rights, which led to his walkout from the conference. At the same time, the success scored by the Palestinian guerrilla groups in entangling the Arab states in war against Israel and the defeat of the Arab regular armies in this war boosted the prestige of guerrilla warfare, which strengthened demands by Fatah and other guerrilla factions for a substantial representation in the PLO. Shuqeiri resigned in December 1967 and was replaced by Yahya Hamuda, another veteran Palestinian politician, who did not represent the guerrilla groups. The fourth session of the PNC, held in Cairo in July 1968, which approved Shuqeiri's resignation, recognized the success of the guerrilla organizations by including them for the first time and electing their leaders to key positions in the organization, most significant of which was the election of Fatah's leader Yasser *Arafat as the PLO's spokesman. The heavy representation in the PNC and the PLO Executive obtained by the guerrilla groups led, in February 1969, at the fifth council session, to their seizure of full control of the PLO, with majority on the Executive. Yasser Arafat was elected chairman, signifying that the guerrilla groups had taken over the PLO.

Thus the PLO represented the core claim of the new Palestinian generation, which intended to play an active role in determining their people's fate rather than leaving it to the Arab states. The fourth PNC session of July 1968 already represented a watershed in PLO history. It changed from being merely a political representative of the Palestinians to a loose umbrella organization for various Palestinian groups, military and civilian alike, with the guerrilla groups as its hard core, as well as for Palestinian communities all over the world. A major result of the changing nature of the PLO was a persistent and uncompromising claim for exclusive authority to speak in the name of the Palestinian people, sometimes imposed by violence on Palestinian figures under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza strip who dared broach ideas such as the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories only, or those conducting talks with the Israeli authorities about the political future of these areas.

The new nature of the PLO now also came to be manifested in ideological terms. At the July 1968 PNC session radical modifications were introduced in the PLO Charter. Unlike the pan-Arab (qawmī) character of Shuqeiri's PLO, the new Charter assumed a clear Palestinian national nature, bearing the title "The Palestinian National (watanī) Charter." The Charter stated that "the Palestinian Arab people" (being an "inseparable part of the Arab nation") "possesses the legal right to its homeland." The Palestinians were defined as those … "Arab citizens who were living permanently in Palestine until 1947" and their descendants, as well as "Jews who are of Palestinian origin" (1964) – or "who were living permanently in Palestine until the beginning of the invasion" (1968), dated in another resolution of the Council as 1917. Only they "will be considered Palestinians" in the future Palestinian state to be established on the whole territory of Mandatory Palestine. The Charter stipulated that the *Balfour declaration, the mandate, the partition of Palestine, and the establishment of the "Zionist entity" were "null and void"; "the claim of a historical or spiritual tie between Jews and Palestine" was denied, "Judaism… is not a nationality, …the Jews are not one people." "The liberation of Palestine… is a national duty to repulse the Zionist, imperialist invasion… and to purge the Zionist presence from Palestine." "The Palestinian people… through the armed Palestinian revolution, reject any solution that would be a substitute for the complete liberation of Palestine." "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine" and is defined as "a strategy and not a tactic," and the "Fidā'iyyūn [i.e., guerrillas] and their action form the nucleus of the popular Palestinian war of Liberation." The Charter stated that it could be changed bya two-third majority of the PNC.

The new Charter served as a rallying point among the various factions coalesced in the PLO under Fatah leadership, but also subjected the PLO to much criticism in the Western world, due to its extreme language and determination to eliminate the state of Israel as well as to force most of its citizens toleave historic Palestine. It is against this backdrop that in the following years the PLO's political thinking began gradually changing albeit without actually modifying anything in the Charter until May 1996 (see below). Thus, in 1969 the PLO adopted the idea of establishing a secular democratic Palestinian state in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews would be living in harmony. However, this idea was met with objections by some factions, and failed to attract world public support. In the early 1970s, as the Palestinian national cause began penetrating the world's public consciousness – primarily due to Palestinian international terrorism – the PLO leadership also came under growing pressure in the inter-Arab arena to modify its practical political positions. Hence, following the defeat and expulsion of the Palestinian guerrilla groups from Jordan in 1970–71, President Anwar al-*Sadat of Egypt repeatedly urged the PLO leadership to accept a realistic solution based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but to no avail.

In the first two decades following the 1967 war the PLO, now dominated by Fatah, focused its efforts toward achieving two main goals: bringing the Palestinians at large to accept the PLO as their exclusive national movement, and pushing the issue of Palestinian national rights, primarily their right to self-determination, into the international limelight in order to finally obtain Arab and international recognition of the organization as the sole legitimate political representative of the Palestinians. Initially, these efforts focused mainly on the Arab world and did not always suit the interests and considerations guiding the Arab regimes. Nonetheless, the combination of the diminished prestige and legitimacy of leading Arab regimes following the defeat of 1967; strong popular support among leftist and nationalist groups in Arab countries for the "Palestinian resistance"; the ongoing guerrilla warfare against Israel and Israel's massive retaliations; and most of all the participation of Palestinian factions in headline-grabbing international terrorism – all turned out to be decisive elements in a process of growing international awareness of the Palestinian issue and the magnification of the PLO's stature both in the Middle East and worldwide. Hence, the relative Arab success in the 1973 war against Israel, and especially the ensuing skyrocketing oil prices and embargo by the Arab oil producers against the United States and Holland, led most of the international community, including the Western European states, to recognize the Palestinian people's right for self-determination, despite reservations about its political course and violent modes of action. By the mid-1970s the PLO had attained full recognition by the majority of the Palestinians in the Arab states and Diaspora as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The success of the Palestinian organizations in combining terrorism with diplomacy was indeed unique in the worldwide community of underground and terrorist organizations.

The aftermath of the 1967 war also witnessed an increase in the efforts to build the national institutions and mechanisms of an effective Palestinian national organization. The result was that, from 1969 on, the PLO became increasingly dominated by Fatah, whose members or supporters constituted the majority of the bureaucratic personnel in the PLO institutions and organs.

One of the main lessons learned by the founding fathers of Fatah from the national struggle against Zionism during the Mandate and up to the 1948 Palestinian disaster was the need for a centralized national authority based on social and political institutions. This was necessary in order to ensure maximum capability of mobilization of the constituents of the Palestinian community and compliance with the PLO's decision making. However, in the absence of territorial sovereignty and ability to reach out to the major Palestinian communities in the Arab world, the PLO could hardly impose its full and exclusive authority on all Palestinian factions – some of which represented the interests of Arab regimes. Under these circumstances Fatah had to compromise and accept a loose confederation of independent organizations, each with its own agenda and sources of financial and military resources. The PLO under Arafat thus functioned more as an overall national framework than a practical structure of a "state in the making." The PLO consisted of the main following representing institutions:

(1) The "Palestinian National Council," which functioned as an occasional parliament and consisted of representatives from military organizations (the main constituent), civil trade unions such as workers, writers, engineers, doctors, women, and students, as well as delegates of Palestinian communities of refugees both in the Arab world and the Diaspora. In the absence of regular elections (except in the trade unions), the majority of the Council members, whose number changed from session to session according to internal political compromises, were appointed, not elected. Effectively, the composition of the Council and other Palestinian national bodies was determined by the heads of the military organizations and reflected their relative strengths, even in the case of civil bodies. Being the largest representative body of the Palestinian people, the main function of the Council was to legitimize major decisions and policies shaped by Fatah's leadership, headed by Arafat. With neither the readiness nor ability to introduce changes into the Palestinian National Charter, especially from the mid-1970s, the National Council, through successive decisions – such as the adoption of a "two states solution" and participation in the Madrid process of the 1990s effectively sanctioned the PLO's deviation from strict adherence to the Charter,.

(2) The Executive Committee, functioning as a government with representatives of the main military organizations and several independent members, usually identified with Fatah. The Executive Committee was composed of departments acting as ministries, such as Foreign Affairs, Military, Finance, Propaganda/Information, Education and Culture, and Refugees. Beside the Executive Committee there existed bodies dealing with operations, security and intelligence, research and planning, culture and humanities and publishing institutes responsible for the frequent publications. The PLO established a system of official representatives functioning as embassies and had standing and diverse contacts with international organizations such as the United Nations and its agencies and with left-wing parties and Arab lobbies worldwide. The Executive Committee offered financial aid to families of the fallen and those injured in the course of actions and protest acts. It also ran productive enterprises under Fatah responsibility established for the employment of the families of the fallen. Along the years it developed into a profit-making financial concern (samed).

(3) The Central Council, established in 1969 as an emergency body, consisted of 50–60 members of the major military organizations. The necessity for such a body stemmed from the occasional difficulties of convening the PNC and the need for legitimizing the Executive Committee's decisions on important political matters.

The PLO was also most active in setting up a Palestinian educational system, primarily in the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, which deepened the bond between the national organization, Palestinian society, and the military groups. The main effort of the Palestinian organizations in the military and political spheres (mobilization and institutionalization) was directed at the inhabitants of the refugee camps, which the PLO wished to turn into ex-territorial bases, or "states within a state," and in fact it succeeded in getting semi-official recognition from the host states for a time (Lebanon, 1969–82; Jordan, 1969–70). The preference for the refugee camps may be attributed to the fact that the majority of the Palestinian leaders were refugees themselves and had drawn much of their legitimization from this common background.

Despite their rhetoric in support of the Palestinian goal of liberating Palestine, however, the Arab states were ambivalent in their practical relations with the PLO due to the contradiction between their raison d'état and the Palestinian raison de la nation. This problem was acute in politically divided countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, where large numbers of Palestinians lived. With the growing presence of armed Palestinian groups in these states and repeated Israeli military raids in retaliation for Palestinian terrorist operations across the borders and abroad, the collision between the state and the Palestinian establishment was inevitable, as demonstrated by the elimination of the Palestinian military presence in Jordan in 1970–71 and the failed attempts of the Lebanese army to impose control over Palestinian military activities in 1968–73, which was one of the main reasons for the eruption of the Lebanese civil war (1975–90). Israel's invasion of Lebanon and pressure for the expulsion of PLO headquarters and military units from this country deprived the PLO of its last semi-autonomous territorial base and practically eliminated its military options, giving rise to other strategies of international diplomacy and civil mobilization of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Following the October 1973 War, confronted with Egyptian and Syrian determination to employ diplomacy as a legitimate means to recover their territories occupied by Israel, and induced by the Soviet Union to adopt a "strategy of phases," the PLO resolved, at its 12th PNC meeting held in Cairo in June 1974, to establish a "combatant Palestinian National Authority on any liberated part of Palestine." The decision also reflected the PLO's intensifying competition with Hashemite Jordan over attaining exclusive representation of the occupied West Bank in the internationally-supervised diplomatic process. Indeed, in November 1973, the Arab summit conference held in Algiers recognized the PLO as "the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" at the expense of Jordan. Furthermore, in October of the following year the Arab summit conference held in Rabat resolved that the PLO was the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," effectively excluding Jordan from the Middle East peace process. From an Israeli and American viewpoint, however, the PLO remained inadequate as a partner in the peace process due to its extreme ideology, terrorist attacks on Israeli civilian targets, and its objection to the very existence of Israel, or to UN resolution 242, which established the legal international basis of a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In retrospect, the decision of June 1974 came to be interpreted as the beginning of the PLO's shift toward acceptance of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip only, alongside Israel. This tendency became clearer in the following years. Thus, in March 1977, the PLO adopted the resolution made by the Arab summit conference in Cairo (October 1976), affirming the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to "establish its independent state on its own national soil." In the late 1970s, PLO leaders were willing to meet non-Zionist "progressive" Israeli figures and then also leftist-Zionists – under the auspices of Communist European governments such as Romania and Hungary.

Although the PLO itself possessed neither military power nor a specific guerrilla apparatus, it was often identified with terrorist activities. This was mainly because of the direct responsibility of Fatah leaders, including Arafat, for such actions and their dominant position within the PLO. The early 1970s witnessed intensified international terrorism against foreign airliners – hijacking, attacks on passengers in terminals, and the taking of hostages – waged by some PLO member organizations, primarily the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Fatah. Despite the worldwide image of the PLO as a terrorist organization, its participation in international terrorism was marginal and never rose above 5 percent. Nonetheless, the impact of Palestinian terrorism was of far-reaching international dimensions owing to the innovation and novelty displayed in the Palestinian terrorist actions both in the selection of targets and in their execution, making them a model for other terrorist organizations. Furthermore, the support of the Palestinian organizations by the Arab states enabled them to supply various underground and terrorist organizations with weapons, training, documentation, liaison agents, and escape routes. Fatah ceased its involvement in international terrorism in 1974 out of political considerations and a desire for PLO inclusion in the Middle East peace process. However, this type of guerrilla warfare was continued by the PFLP (and, from 1975, only by its dissident group headed by Wadi Haddad) and by other dissident factions such as that of Abu Nidal.

From the outset, the PLO managed to extract funds from the oil monarchies in the Gulf as well as from Palestinians working in those countries. These Arab funds enabled it to build a growing institutional system and bureaucracy and run political, economic, and financial enterprises, social, health, and educational institutions, a diverse press, research centers, and enterprises publishing books and periodicals. In addition, the PLO established diplomatic representation in many world capitals as well as a worldwide information/propaganda network. PLO chairman Arafat was constantly traveling around the Arab and developing world capitals for consultations and conferences (including a November 1974 appearance at the UN General Assembly, at the latter's invitation). In the course of the 1970s the PLO won recognition from an increasing number of states and Arafat came to be received as a head of state. From 1969, and more so from 1974, the PLO became a recipient of "steadfastness" (ṣumūd) funds which allowed the organization to distribute them among its followers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Baghdad Arab summit conference of November 1978 allocated for this purpose an annual sum of $100 million (apart from allocations to the PLO itself) for 10 years. This aid was to be jointly distributed to the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Jordan and the PLO. Despite their animosity, a "Jordan-PLO Joint Committee for the Occupied Territories" was established to distribute these funds, and a limited presence of PLO offices and representatives was again permitted. This enabled Fatah to deepen its penetration within the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and build an institutional political infrastructure to support the organization from within.

The Joint Jordan-PLO Committee paved the road to further rapprochement between the two contenders, which took place following the expulsion of the PLO and its military buildup from Lebanon in late August 1982 and the Reagan Plan of September 1. In 1983–85 King Hussein and PLO Chairman Arafat conducted a series of talks with the aim of reaching a formula for joint Jordanian-Palestinian political action in the context of the Middle East peace negotiations and future Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

The problem of PLO participation in the peace process was indeed a major procedural obstacle for moving from the Israel-Egypt and Israel-Syria military disengagement agreements signed in early 1974 to a comprehensive settlement which was to be discussed within the framework of the Geneva conference. The problem was a result of the PLO's status as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," as recognized by the Rabat summit conference in October 1974. However, knowing the Israeli attitude toward the PLO, the Arab regimes had been well aware of the implications of such a decision on the peace process. Moreover, in 1975, following the signing of the Israel-Egypt Interim Agreement in Sinai, Israel received an American commitment that the U.S. government would not have contacts with the PLO as long as the organization did not renounce terrorism, accept resolution 242, and recognize Israel's right to exist. The PLO, however, adamantly objected to making such compromises before being recognized as an equal party in the Arab-Israeli peacemaking process. It was this deadlock regarding the Palestinian participation in the Geneva conference that led Sadat to his decision to take the initiative and visit Jerusalem. This, however, did not make PLO decision-making any easier. The Israel-Egypt peace negotiations forced the PLO leaders to close ranks with the radical Arab regimes, in order to survive politically. Thus, the PLO joined the "Steadfastness and Confrontation Front" established in Tripoli, Libya, in December 1977 in response to Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. Hussein's pressure on the PLO to accept UN Resolution 242 in the course of their negotiations in 1983–86 failed, as did that of Egypt's President Husni *Mubarak. The main obstacle to a renewed peace process in the 1980s was a formal acceptance by the PLO of Israel's right to exist, renunciation of terrorism in all forms, and a clear commitment to peaceful coexistence with Israel. In the diplomatic code this was formulated as "accepting Resolution 242."

On the PLO's part, there was an additional reason for rejecting Resolution 242: The resolution spoke of the need to resolve the "refugee" problem, without mentioning the Palestinian refugees and certainly not the Palestinian people and its national rights. Suggestions by the U.S. administration to accept the principles of the resolution while registering a reservation concerning Palestinian national rights proved unacceptable to the PLO. Evasive, open-ended remarks – like accepting "all" UN resolutions – were unacceptable to the U.S. and Israel, as were the PLO's pre-condition that it be recognized by the U.S. (once it endorsed Resolution 242), or receive a priori acceptance of its demands for Palestinian statehood and self-determination. The vital issue of accepting the principles of Resolution 242 therefore remained unresolved through most of the 1980s.

Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the siege of Beirut ended in late August, after nine weeks of fighting, in the expulsion of the Palestinian armed forces and bureaucracy. The evacuation of 11,000–14,000 PLO personnel from Beirut was internationally supervised, and tacitly supported by most Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Lebanon. The PLO headquarters and military units moved to Tunisia, while others were accepted in Sudan, Yemen, and South Yemen. With its headquarters in Tunis and military forces dispersed and far from the borders of Israel, the PLO was stripped of its military option, politically weakened, and under threat of demise. In December 1983 Arafat and 4,000 of his men were evacuated from Tripoli – again with international supervision and support. In 1983–86, Arafat succeeded in reinfiltrating some of his apparatus into Lebanon and renewing the military infrastructure by smuggling weapons into the Palestinian camps, especially in the southern parts of the country.

The *Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which erupted in late 1987, came as a surprise to the PLO, sending a threatening message viv-à-vis the PLO's authority over the Palestinian people "inside" the homeland. At the 19th PNC session, in November 1988, the PLO proclaimed the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of UN Resolution 181 (of November 1947, on the partition of Palestine). One month later Arafat publicly renounced terrorism and accepted Resolutions 242 and 338. The decision was taken under pressure from the Palestinian "inside" leadership following a year of Intifada and American pressure conditioning the opening of a political dialogue with the PLO on such steps.

However the dilemma within the PLO still existed as to whether to abandon the armed struggle and cling to the political process or to keep both on the agenda. This dilemma was manifested on several occasions, such as the terrorist action conducted on Israel's coastline in May 1990 by the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), which Arafat refused to denounce, causing the cessation of the diplomatic dialogue between the PLO and the U.S. Another example was the support shown by Arafat for Iraq during the Gulf crisis in 1991. This position brought on Arafat and the PLO the wrath of the Gulf oil monarchies and a decision to cease all funding by these states to the PLO and the Palestinians in the occupied territories. This led to a financial crisis within the PLO's mainstream Fatah, forcing it to reduce activities such as the publication of newspapers, welfare services, and funding of its supporters in Arab states and the occupied territories. Furthermore, the growing power of *Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) in the occupied territories and its refusal to join the PLO as one of its factions and on Arafat's conditions, all determined the PLO's reluctant acceptance of the American formula for the Madrid conference in late 1991. The PLO had to acquiesce to Israel's conditions for the participation of Palestinian delegates from the occupied territories within the framework of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. However, during the talks, the Palestinian delegates were constantly and overtly instructed by the PLO.

During the winter-spring of 1993, the PLO and unofficial Israeli delegates began exploring ways in Washington to overcome the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian talks. The secret talks held in Oslo, Norway, soon amounted to full-fledged official negotiations, representing the PLO's attempt to regain control of the diplomatic process with Israel and keep the American hosts at bay. In August, Arafat informed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the PLO was committed to the peace process in the Middle East, reaffirming its recognition of Resolutions 242 and 338. A few weeks later the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO was signed on the White House lawn. The most conspicuous part of the document was the parties' mutual recognition. The PLO was officially recognized by Israel and the U.S. government as the legal representative of the Palestinian people in the peace process and in implementing its resolutions until elections to the *Palestinian Authority (PA) were held. The elections for the PA's council and chairperson were held in January 1996, reaffirming Arafat's unchallenged position, with Fatah members winning a dominant position in the Council. Arafat remained the PLO chairman and at the same time the chairman of the PA.

Although in principle the PLO stands above the PA and the Oslo accords were all signed between Israel and the PLO, in the late 1990s the PLO was increasingly shunted aside by the PA, with the latter occupying the center of Palestinian society and politics. The PLO retained its headquarters in Tunis, with Farouq Qaddoumi as the main figure identified with the organization and its commitment to Palestinian Diaspora communities. In spite of funds funneled by Arafat to refugee camps in Lebanon, the PLO's scope of action and responsibilities were reduced considerably after the establishment of the PA. Arafat's control of PLO-PA funds enabled him to transfer financial aid to Palestinian communities, especially in Lebanon, in violation of the conditions of the donating countries. This was also manifested in the PNC session in April 1996 in Gaza, whose aim was to express support for the peace process and alter the Palestinian National Charter in accordance with Arafat's commitment in his letter to Prime Minister Rabin of September 11, 1993. In this letter Arafat undertook to alter the Palestinian National Charter by nullifying those articles in the Charter that explicitly or implicitly denied Israel's right to exist or called for its destruction. With the changing of governments in Israel in May 1996 and the election of Netanyahu as prime minister, however, Israel demanded an unequivocal decision in this matter, reflecting the weakening of trust between the two parties. In November 1998, in the presence of U.S. President Clinton, Arafat convened the PLO's Central Council and passed the necessary resolution which won Israel's approval.

The eruption of the al-Aqsa Intifada in October 2000 and deterioration of Israeli-Palestinian relations into murderous violence against Israeli citizens and massive military retaliations by Israel against PA headquarters and installations; and the confinement of Arafat in his compound in Ramallah in late 2002, all underscored the importance of Arafat as the living symbol of the Palestinian resistance and continued struggle against Israel.

The death of Arafat in November 2004 and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the PA's new chairman (in addition to his appointment as PLO chairman) introduced little change in the relations between these two institutions. However, with Abbas at the helm, the PLO lost much of the revolutionary, militant image symbolized by Arafat with his rhetoric and military uniforms. Instead, the new PA leader tried to introduce a clear civilian image and statesmanlike thinking in managing the PA. At the same time, he had to accept Qaddoumi, an ardent opponent of the Oslo process and a symbol of the PLO revolutionary legacy, as chair of the Central Committee of Fatah, the main decision-making body of the mainstream Palestinian movement. All these equations were thrown into confusion with the surprise victory of *Hamas in the PA's parliamentary elections of January 2006. (For Israel's subsequent clashes with Hamas, see *Israel, State of: Historical Survey.)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

H. Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics, 1984); M. Shemesh, The Palestinian Entity 19591974, Arab Politics and the PLO (1988); J.R. Nassar, The Palestine Liberation Organization: From Armed Struggle to the Declaration of Independence (1991); B. Rubin, Revolution Until Victory? The Politics and History of the PLO (1994).

[Avraham Sela (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.