Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

In Search for the Palestinian Liberation Organization

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat throws flowers at a cheering crowd 05 July 1993 after his arrival in the newly self-ruled town of Jericho. Arafat returned today to Gaza for the first time in 27 years. Photo: Patrick BAZ / AFP

Majed Kayali

In May 1964, the Arab League Summit issued a resolution to establish the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). At that time, the late Egyptian president Gamal Abd el-Nasser supported issuing this resolution. However, the PLO was not yet a political entity that represents the Palestinians until 1969. At that year, the active role of the PLO became obvious when the various Palestinian factions joined the organization. These factions treated the organization as a collective frame for their work under the leadership of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Another stage started when the PLO introduced the Ten Point Program in 1974 on the sidelines of the 12th session of the Palestinian National Council. The program focused on establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By this, the PLO moved to another scope. The organization started at that point to focus on its Arab and international presence and position. As a result, the Arab Summit held in Rabat recognized the PLO as the sole official representative of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, Arafat delivered at the same year a speech in the UN on behalf of the Palestinian people. He did that as the leader of the PLO.

However, the most significant development that occurred to the PLO was the emergence of the Palestinian authority (PA). In fact, the Palestinian people found themselves in front of two entities. Consequently, this led to the following repercussions:

First, the PLO appeared to be an affiliate of the PA and not the opposite. This situation became evident when the most significant part of Palestinian national movement moved to the West Bank and Gaza. And this included PLO’s apparatus. Furthermore, the leadership of both entities was identical. In fact, Yasser Arafat – and after him Mahmoud Abbas – turned to be the chief of PLO and PA simultaneously.

Secondly, the PLO was marginalized, which rendered it inactive and ineffective. Since establishing the PA in 1993, only 3 sessions were held for the National Palestinian Council. The first session was organized in 1996 while the second one in 2009. This meeting was held to restore the membership of the executive committee. The third was in 2018. Based on that, it is not surprising to know that the PLO held only 2 normal sessions in 22 years!

Third, the emergence of the Palestinian Authority costed the PLO its position as a legislative entity for the Palestinians. The Palestinian people were stuck between two entities where the PLO outweighs the PA. This led to marginalizing the position of Palestinian refugees in the national Palestinian framework.

Fourth, as a result of the foregoing repercussions, PLO lost its position as a representative of the Palestinians everywhere. This happened either by marginalizing it, or by focusing on the PA as an entity. In addition, this can be linked to restricting the Palestinian leadership – represented by the authority and its apparatus – on Palestinians of the occupied lands (the West Bank and Gaza). Consequently, this led to deconstructing the Palestinian people’s unity, in addition to disturbing the Palestinian historical narrative. In fact, this repercussion is the most dangerous outcome resulted from Oslo Accord. By this, the Palestinian National Movement turned from a liberation movement into a mere authority under occupation.

The more serious problem is that all of this wasn’t a mere result of external pressure, especially that of the Americans and the Israelis. Rather, this came as a result of the illusions resulted from Oslo Accord regarding establishing an independent Palestinian state, which was proved to be false. In addition, this situation should be directly linked to the methods that the Palestinian leadership followed. Moreover, this deadlock is based on lacking collective leadership traditions, marginalizing cadres, belittling institutions and not having clear political strategies.

Now, after the authority reached a dead end, there are several perspectives proposing the idea of rebuilding or reactivating the PLO. Nevertheless, the problem is too big and complicated to be solved by merely issuing a resolution. This complexity gets higher when we know that the Palestinian Authority exists as a fait accompli. More than 160.000 employees currently work for the PA. Furthermore, the situation gets more complicated when we know that the PLO became fragile and obsolete. Ironically, the proposed forms of reactivating the PLO are formulated by the same actors who marginalized it. The problem lays in the inadequacy of these forms, as they are based on factional quota. In other words, solutions are based on the partnership between the two major factions (Fatah and Hamas). That means depending on two entities: the one authority in the West Bank and the other one in Gaza. Sadly, it is very unlikely to organize an election where all Palestinians from everywhere can participate and express their opinion in this regard. This deadlock comes despite the National and Central councils have been issuing – for more than 10 years – many decisions stressing the need to hold elections. However, there was no way to go ahead with such an option.

Reforming or rebuilding the PLO obviously requires having a clear and specific political and organizational basis. First, the PLO has to be rehabilitated as a representative of Palestinians wherever they are. This nation should be treated as a united one that cannot be partitioned, despite the peculiarities of each group. Secondly, we need to form a political vision based on the people of Palestine’s unity, in the historical Palestine and in countries of diaspora and refuge. Such an idea should be derived from the unity of the Palestinians’ cause and their shared destiny. We have to stick to the unity of the land, the people and the cause of Palestine, based on holding on to the historical narrative. This needs to be accompanied by sticking to the values of truth, freedom, justice, dignity and ensuring individual and collective rights. Thirdly, the Palestinian people has the right to struggle using the just and legal means, which are consistent with the above mentioned values and international standards. This will allow the Palestinians to grow their abilities and develop their society. By this, they can strengthen their resilience in the historical land of Palestine and restore their national rights.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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