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The Plo Essay, Research Paper


—-This paper will provide an overview of the

Palestinian Liberation Organization, including its

early history and its rise to prominence during the

Intifada that began in 1987. It will also include a

description of Yasser Arafat’s ascendency to the

leadership of the PLO, a position that earned him

the right to speak for all Palestinians by virtue

of the peace framework signed by him and the former

Israeli Prime Minister Yitsak Rabin in 1993.

Early History

—-Growing Palestinian activism in the early part

of the 1960’s provided the impetus for the convening

of the first summit conference of Arab leaders in

1964 — to plan a unified response to Israeli plans

to divert some of the waters of the Jordan River.

This activism influenced the decision, made at that

conference, to create the PLO. It also precipitated

the slide of the Arab states into the June 1967 war

with Israel. In the mid-1960’s the Arab regimes

were again haunted by a force they had not had to

deal with since 1948: a Palestinian nationalist

movement that, in spite of being divided into

several underground groups, could exert great

pressure on them by playing on public opinion and

inter-Arab pressures.

—-During the early and middle 1960’s

dissatisfaction with the Arab status quo fueled the

growth of Palestinian nationalist groups. Most

successful was Fatah, headed by Yasser Arafat

(discussed below) which began military operations

against Israel on Jan. 1, 1965, with an attack on

the Israeli national water carrier project to

transfer water from the Jordan River to the south

of Israel. Although little more than pinpricks to

the Israelis, these attacks were effective armed

propaganda in the Palestinians’ political offensive

to force the Arab regimes, partiuclarly Egypt under

Gamal Abd al-Nasser, to practice what they preached

regarding Palestine. The first target chosen by

Fatah was especially symbolic, since none of the

Arab summit meetings called to deal with Israel’s

Jordan River water diversion had resulted in any

concrete action. This pattern of armed propaganda

continued to characterize Palestinian armed

attacks. It was aimed at winning Palestinian

opinion over to Fatah and at convincing Arab public

opinion of the feasibility of direct action against


—-The June 1967 war, in which several Arab nations

were soundly defeated by Israel, was nonetheless a

watershed that led to the rebirth of a Palestinian

national movement with a strong separate identity.

The rebirth occurred in several stages. The first

was winning a crucial victory in the battle of

Karameh in the Jordan river valley in March 1968,

where outnumbered Palestinian guerrillas, backed by

Jordanian artillery, stood up to Israeli armored

forces. The importance of this battle was not in

the relatively limited Israeli losses, but in the

fact that the Israelis appeared to have been driven

back by Palestinian irregulars only nine months

after the rout of three Arab regular armies in

1967. During the next stage, also in 1968, the

Palestinian guerrilla groups, who called themselves

fida’iyeen (fedayeen), or self-sacrificers, seized

control of the PLO from the leadership that had

been installed by Egyptian President Gamal Abd

al-Nasser in 1964.

Arafat’s Rise

—-Arafat was born in Jerusalem in 1929 and brought

up in Gaza. He studied civil engineering at Cairo

University, where he headed the League of Palestine

Students (1952-1956), and fought in the Suez war of

1956. In the late 1950’s he lived in Kuwait and

helped to establish Fatah, which began terrorist

operations against Israel in the early 1960’s. From

about 1965, and particularly after Israel’s victory

in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, a power struggle

develooped within the Palestinian resistance

movement, mainly between advocates of Arab state

sponsorship and those, like Arafat, supporting an

independent movement. In 1969 Arafat, as leader of

the most powerful group in the PLO, was elected


—-Under Arafat’s leadership, the PLO developed a

variety of political, socioeconomic, and

educational institutions in Lebanon and elsewhere

in the Palestinian diaspora. Arafat’s greatest

efforts, however, were seen in the diplomatic

arena, where he doggedly pursued the goal of

international recognition of the rights of

Palestinians to self- determination and of the PLO

as their legitimate political representative.

Because of his desire to press for a diplomatic

solution he undertook initiatives that at times

were unacceptable to the Palestine National Council

(PNC), the Palestinian people’s “parliament in


—-In the late 1960’s, Arafat supported the PNC’s

call for a secular democratic state in all of

Palestine, to be achieved by guerrilla attacks

against Israeli targets. This strategy lost

credibility in the aftermath of the 1973

Arab-Israeli war, and in 1974 the PNC agreed to a

Palestinian state in any part of Palestine. From

then on, Arafat remained a backer of what was

understood to represent a “two-state” solution.

The Intifada: The Palestinian Mass Uprising

—-The rise of the PLO to the world stage really

began with the well-known intifada, or mass

uprising, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was

at the end of 1987 where resistance to Israel’s

occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip began to

sharply escalate in the form of demonstrations,

strikes, boycotts, and violence. It came to involve

virtually the whole Palestinian population in those

areas, and continued even two years later in spite

of the hundreds of Palestinian deaths and thousands

of detentions that came at the hands of Israeli

police forces.

—-The uprising was the product of a generation

that had been brought up under Israeli control. By

the late 1980’s two out of every three Palestinians

in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had either been born

or were less than five years old when the Israeli

occupation began. For two decades the people had

had no control over their own lives and their

future was becoming increasingly unsure. This

was primarily due to the creeping annexation of

land by the Israeli occupation authorities and the

establishment of Israeli settlements on the

confiscated lands. By 1993, more than 60 percent of

the West Bank land and about 50 the land of the

overcrowded Gaza Strip had been appropriated by

Israel (Peretz, 1990). Some of it was destined for

Jewish settlements, inhabited in many cases by

militant right-wing settlers seeking Israeli

annexation of these areas. The settlements were

meant to “establish facts,” and hence make Israeli

control irrevocable. The presence of these settlers

seriously worsened the tensions between

Palestianian and Jewish settlers.

—-For two decades Israel had done much to prevent

independent economic or social development and to

subject the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the needs

of the Israeli economy: these areas became the

second largest market for Israeli exports, provided

a pool of cheap labor for Israel, and offered a

field for lucrative Israeli investment. West Bank

and Gaza Strip workers had to pay part of their low

salaries into the Israeli social security fund, but

could not receive benefits. All residents were

heavily taxed, but the Palestinian workers received

much less benefits than the Israelis enjoyed. It came to the

point that the occupation not only paid for itself

but became profitable to the Israeli state.

—-Over the years the Israeli occupation

authorities expelled more than 1,700 Palestinians

for political offenses. They punished the families

of many suspects (often later found innocent) by

demolishing their homes. They arrested and detained

many thousands of Palestinians, often by means of

administrative detentions without trial that

bypassed even the military justice system.

Eventually so many people had been harmed by the

occupation in one way or another that a large

proportion of Palestinians apparently felt that

they had nothing left to lose.

—-What resulted starting on Dec. 9, 1987, was

clearly a popular uprising. It included children,

teenagers, adults, and elderly people, men and women,

every class of the population from laborers to

wealthy merchants, and every region from the cities

and towns to the refugee camps to isolated

villages. Medical relief committees, food

distribution cooperatives, local agricultural

production initiatives, educational committees, and

other ad hoc local groups sprang up to sustain the

uprising. The uprising was led in each locality by

a committee representing all the area’s political

forces–generally the three or four main groups

composing the PLO (Nasser and Heacock, 1990).. A

similar leadership formed at higher regional

levels, and it was topped by an underground

coordinating group that signed its periodic

communiques “PLO–Unified National Leadership of

the Uprising in the Occupied Territories” (Peretz,

1990). As members of the leadership were detained

by the Israelis–who after 18 months had detained

more than 20,000 people–their places were taken by


—-The uprising shattered the barrier of fear of

the occupier, strengthened the sense of

self-reliance, and in general empowered a

population that had been systematically deprived of

control over its destiny during two decades of

Israeli occupation, and before that for 19 years

under Jordanian and Egyptian rule. The resiliency

of the uprising in spite of varied forms of Israeli

repression over many months showed that the

Palestinians had learned well how to rely on

themselves and on institutions that they created.

And while many demonstrators often threw rocks and

gasoline bombs, they generally avoided more lethal

weapons and tactics. The uprising helped

crystallize a new and much younger leadership, and

marked the beginning of a new phase of the

Palestinian national movement (Nasser and Heacock,


====The uprising provoked intense sympathy in the

Arab world and galvanized Palestinians everywhere,

bringing their cause to the attention of the world

(Gerner, 1992). Palestinians inside Israel carried

out sympathy demonstrations and strikes. A growing

number of Jews voiced doubts about Israeli policy.

As a direct result of domestic and other pressures

sparked by the uprising, Jordan’s King Hussein, on

July 31, 1988, severed his country’s links with the

West Bank and renounced Jordan’s sovereignty over

it, thereby reversing nearly 40 years of Jordanian


—-PLO leader Arafat rode a strong wave of

international support during and after the intifada

(Peretz, 1990). He was able to speak before the

United Nations General Assembly. During that U.N.

meeting, and afterwards, Arafat sought to satisfy

the United States’ two long-standing conditions for

negotiation: a recognition for the rights of Israel

to exist and a renouncement of terrorism. The

critical sentence at that speech that many thought

should satisfy the U.S. recognition requirements

was the following (Gerner, 1992):

“The PLO will seek a comprehensive settlement among the partiesconcerned in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, within the framework of the international conference for peace in the Middle East on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 and so as to guarantee equality and the balance of interests, especially our people’s rights, in freedom, national independence, and respect the right to exist in peace and security for all.”

—-Yet, the United States and Secretary of State

George Shulz were not completely satisfied. Thus,

Arafat gave it one more try at a news conference

the following day, in which he said:

“In my speech also yesterday, it was clear that we mean our people’s rights to freedom and natinal independence, according to Resolution 181, and the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security, and, as I have mentioned, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, according to the Resolutions 242 and 338. As for terrorism, I renounced it yesterday in no uncertain terms, and yet, I repeat for the record. I repeat for the record that we totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorism, including individual, group, and state terrorism.”

—-Afterwards, the United States announced that the

PLO had met the conditions for negotiation, and

low-level talks between the PLO and the United

States ensued. But it was in 1993 when the most

significant talks took place, unbeknownst to most

of the world. Secret, direct negotiations between

Israel and the PLO took place in Norway. They

culminated in a draft peace agreement, and were

followed by formal mutual recognition between

Israel and the PLO on September 10. Three days

later the agreeement was signed on the White House

lawn and sealed by a handshake between Arafat and

Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin.


—-The PLO, which grew to prominence under the

organization of Yassir Arafat and which became an

international player thanks to the intifada, found

its ultimate goal of a Palestinian homeland closer

than ever with the signing of the peace agreement

with Israel. It marked a great accomplishment for

an organization that was begun by four Arab

countries in 1964. But even today it is not clear

that the PLO’s mission has been fully realized; the

election of the conservative Netanhayu government

in Israel has hampered some of the steps outlined

in the peace agreement. Thus, once again, Arafat is

trying to rally the world to the side of the PLO in

its ongoing struggle.


Gerner, Deborah. “The Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Intervention into the 1990’s. ed. Peter J. Shraeder. Boulder: Rienner Publishers, 1992. pp. 361 – 382.

Nassar, Jamal and Heacock, Roger, eds. Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads. New York: Praeger, 1990.

Peretz, Don. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising. Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.

Biographical information taken from: Koury, Philip S. “Arafat, Yasir.” Colliers Encyclopedia CD_ROM. Vol.2 1996.


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