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Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) History of Struggle

posted on: Jun 1, 2021

The official logo of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Photo: Wikipedia

By: Christian Jimenez/Arab America Contributing Writer

PLO History:

Ever since the establishment of the state of Israel, many Palestinians have suffered as they could no longer live in their homeland of Palestine, and have been forced to live in refugee camps where conditions were and are still terrible.  Thus, since the creation of Israel, Palestinians would create many organizations that have fought for the reclamation of their homeland, with the most famous example being the Palestine Liberation Organization, also known as the PLO.

Beginning of the PLO and Yasser Arafat

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When the state of Israel was created and the Al-Nakba, “the catastrophe”, started in the year 1948, over 750,000 Palestinians fled to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.  They would stay in refugee camps within these countries, or they would take residence in the Palestinian areas not taken by Israel.   These territories included the West Bank which was annexed by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip which was occupied by Egypt.  This hardship and the loss of the Arab states to Israel led to the creation of several Palestinian organizations, including the PLO, which was created in 1964 during an Arab League Summit held in Egypt with its first leader being Ahmad Shuqayri.  The PLO organization’s goal was armed resistance against Israel in order to regain their sovereignty back.  However, at that time the PLO was heavily influenced by the other states of the Arab League, such as Egypt, and its army was also integrated within these other Arab armies, where they would form their own separate brigades.  Thus, in the early history of this organization, it was heavily influenced and dependent on other Arab League states as they used the organization for their own armies and goals. 

However, this would change with the Six-Day War where Israel defeated both Egypt and Jordan, which allowed it to occupy the remaining Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  The defeat discredited the PLO led by Ahmad Shuqayri along with some of the Arab States sponsoring it.  This eventuality led to the reorganization of the PLO in July 1968 when the guerilla groups were named as the core component of the PLO’s and the Palestinian people’s struggle against Israel.  Shortly after this, Ahmad Shuqayri would later step down as the leader of the PLO, which then led to Yasser Arafat’s Al-Fatah being the most important guerilla group within the PLO.  Since that time and before his death in 2004, Arafat would be the most influential person in the Palestine Liberation Organization.  The reason for Al-Fatah’s success as the most popular Palestinian group was that it stayed out of the conflicts of inter-Arab disputes, and it had no specific ideology except for its cause to liberate Palestine.  This lack of a specific ideology helped the organization in obtaining support from the different Arab States and allowed people from around the world with different backgrounds, religions, and cultures to join the fight of armed resistance.  

Conflicts with Neighboring Arab States

The Martyr Square’s Statue in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War
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However, despite not being involved in inter-Arab disputes, the PLO would be involved in internal conflicts with the surrounding Arab states such as Jordan when in September 1970 they would be involved in a war against them.  The conditions for war would be created once the bases of the PLO would move into Jordan from the West Bank.   During their time in Jordan, the PLO organization would get funds and recruits from sympathetic Arab populations, which worried King Hussein as the Palestine Organization became a state within a state undermining his authority. In fact, the PLO would even call for an end to the Hashemite monarchy.  However, on July 10 of 1970, Arafat and Hussein signed a deal where Hussein would pledge support for the Palestinian cause and non-interference during their raids against Israel in exchange for the PLO recognizing the legitimacy of the Hashemite Monarchy.  This peace would not last as the PFLP, another Palestinian organization in the PLO, would hijack several airliners and blow them up in a Jordanian airfield.  This action would be the last straw for King Hussein, starting a war between the PLO and Jordan in September 1970 where they would be kicked out of the country in what became known as Black September

They would then move on to Lebanon where another conflict was brewing as the Lebanese Civil War was about to begin. In the Lebanese Civil War, the PLO would support the Pan-Arabist and Muslim Palestinains against the Christian Lebanese forces which included the Kataeb Party. The PLO would have a significant impact in this war until 1982 where the Israelis forced many PLO members to flee abroad as Beirut was being besieged by them.  However, it will be in the year of 1991 where the Lebanese army with Syrian backing kicked the final remnants of the PLO out of their positions in Southern Lebanon.  However, during the civil war the PLO was able to achieve recognition in 1974, a year after the Yom Kippur War, as the sole legitimate representative by the Palestinian people by the United Nations.  They would also join as a full member of the Arab League by 1976. 

First Intifada to Present

Palestinian child throwing stone at Israeli tank in the Second Intifada
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Years later the First Intifada, meaning “shaking off” in Arabic, would begin.  This uprising was caused by years of Palestinian lands being occupied by Israel and the formation of Zionist settlements by the Israeli government.  As of 1987, there were 2,200 Jewish settlers on 40 percent of the land in Gaza leading to great hardship amongst the Palestinians there.  These problems caused mounting tensions leading to a spark when an Israeli truck crashed and killed four Palestinians, this event then led to protests leading to the killing of a 17-year boy by December 9, 1987 by Israeli soldiers starting the First Intifada.  Soon, mass protests and boycotts were spreading around the Gaza Strip and the West Bank by various organizations and grassroots campaigns. 

The PLO could only influence events indirectly as the intifada caught them off guard, and they were based in Tunis, Tunisia after their flight from Lebanon. The PLO attempted to support and influence the intifada by giving statements to these grassroots movements through the Unified National Command of the Uprising. They would also influence events due to the organizations and grassroots campaigns being loyal to Al-Fatah. Also during this time an Israeli commando force raided and killed Khalil al-Wazir, co-founder of Al-Fatah, in April 1988 in Tunis.  After this event the PLO would eventually proclaim an independent Palestinian state by November 1988 and the intifada would end sometime around the Madrid Accords of 1991.  However, around this time, Yasser Arafat made a statement denouncing terrorism, recognizing the right for Israel to exist, and willing to have a land for peace program with Israel.  Statements like these and negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials would help lead to the Oslo Accords in four years time in 1993 and 1995 where the Israelis promised to militarily withdraw from Gaza and Jericho, and the Palestinian Authority(PA) would be set up to eventually rule both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In addition to these policies, there would also be mutual recognition by both the PLO and Israel. 

However, this was not a great solution in the eyes of many Palestinians as the West Bank Israeli settlements would continue to be set up despite going against international law.  These settlements and other factors such as the failure of further peace talks between Palestine and Israel in the Camp David Summit, and Likud Party leader, Ariel Sharon, going to the Temple Mount, a site of religious significance to Muslims and Jews, started the Second Intifada around the year 2000.  Since this time and the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004 and the mantle of Al-Fatah passing to Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO and Al-Fatah have become more corrupt and inefficient in the eyes of many Palestinians.  This view soon led to the success of Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot in Palestine, as they would win the elections of 2006 leading to a civil war dividing the Palestinian leadership between the Hamas ruled Gaza and the Fatah ruled West Bank.  Since that time, the Palestinian leadership has tried to reunify most notably in 2020 where both sides were against Trump’s peace plan, and are planning to hold elections, but there is much skepticism by the Palestinian people that these elections would take place.  Hopefully, the PA could be unified and stand up in a united voice against Israel for the self-right of Palestinians in the future.

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