On 2 June 1964, the
When the PLO was created, it was criticized for its unrepresentative character. The Arab defeat suffered in the June 1967 war
signified to many the failure of the Arab regular armies and the failure of the PLO itself. Guerrilla action became widespread, and new Palestinian organizations were formed. Shuqairi was forced to resign as president of the PLO, setting the stage for the transfer of its leadership into the hands of the guerrilla organizations:
In October 1968, Fatah raised the slogan of a single democratic state in Palestine that would guarantee the equal rights of all its citizens, “regardless of religion or language.” The fifth PNC session, held in Cairo in early February 1969, adopted this program, and it elected
Between the summer of 197O and the summer of 1971, the PLO faced its first major crisis. Its presence in
After the outbreak of the 1973 war
, which among other things gave rise to the illusion that a political settlement could completely reverse the disastrous results of the June 1967 war, the PLO factions unanimously rejected the return of the
With this shift in positions, the PLO achieved a number of important political gains in the international and Arab arenas. In November 1974, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, and sovereignty in Palestine (Resolution 3236); recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and granted it observer status at the UN (Resolution 3237); and was the forum for a dramatic appearance from Arafat. The seventh
By the late 1970s, factors had also combined to transform the structure of the PLO. On a political level,
Another major turning point came in June 1982, when Israeli forces launched a major offensive in Lebanon. After nearly three months of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, the Israeli managed to dislodge the PLO’s military presence in Lebanon. With the eviction of its troops, the PLO lost the “safe base” that had provided it with freedom of political action. Further, it lost the option of “armed struggle,” which the PLO had used to establish its role as a key party to the conflict and a potential partner in a political settlement. Its leadership dispersed and its ranks divided, Fatah itself suffered an outbreak of internal political discord and military confrontation. At the same time, Palestinian refugees were further marginalized within the Lebanese political and social arenas. Stripped of protection, they became targets, illustrated most savagely during the September 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres
, but also during the “
Attempts by the PLO leadership during this period to establish closer ties with Jordan and Egypt did not succeed in lifting the organization from its weakened state. Preoccupied by the Iran-Iraq war
, the Arab states paid little attention to the Palestinian issue at the
The establishment of the Palestinian Authority, however, further weakened the PLO and marginalized its role as a political umbrella organization for the Palestinians. The issue of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was separated from the issue of the refugees’ right of return, and the divide deepened between the three main communities of Palestinians—those in the diaspora, those in the territories occupied in 1967, and those inside the areas of historic Palestine that became Israel in 1948. Indeed, many Palestinians in the diaspora no longer see the PLO as serving a meaningful function or representing their interests.
Over the half-century of its existence, the PLO has undergone a number of transitions, from a largely symbolic group beholden to other Arab regimes to the most dynamic representative of Palestinian aspirations, from a revolutionary political and fighting force to a bureaucratic apparatus, from the most relevant Palestinian political body on the international scene to a marginalized and largely hollow structure, its key functions rendered redundant by the Palestinian Authority or sclerotic through disuse. Periodic calls are made for its revitalization, but such an enormous task has not taken place yet. However, the monumental achievement of the PLO, its legacy and impact on the modern history of the Palestinian people, cannot be overestimated.
Cobban, Helena. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Hamid, Rashid. “What Is the PLO?” Journal of Palestine Studies 4, no.4 (Summer 1975): 90–109.
Sayigh, Yezid. Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949–1993. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Taylor, Alan R. “The PLO in Inter-Arab Politics.” Journal of Palestine Studies 11, no.2 (Winter 1982): 70–81.