Palestinian Liberation Organization 1. Can the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) justifiably claim to be ‘the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.’? The PLO was set up in 1964 by an Arab League decision in response to growing signs of Palestinian unrest. The Palestinians desired to reclaim the lands occupied by Israel, which they felt belonged to them, as said in the Bible. In 1964 the Arab states created the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). While it was supposed to represent the Palestinians, in reality it represented the views of President Nasser of Egypt, who guided the formation of the PLO.
Its first leader made wild and irresponsible threats to drive Israelis into the sea, and had little support among Palestinians for he was seen as a puppet of the Egyptians. In the 1960s Palestinian students began to form their own organizations independent of control by Arab governments (although the Syrians, Libyans, and Iraqis continued to fund and control particular groups). Yasser Arafat founded an independent Palestinian-run party called Fatah. He is said to have the backing, for most of the recent past, of about 80% of the Palestinian people. The position of the Arab governments was that a PLO under Arab League supervision would be the best way of satisfying the demands made by an emerging Palestinian national consciousness. Also, it was felt that through such an organization Arab governments could control Palestinian political activities.
Ten years after its founding, the PLO was raised to the status of government. And in 1988, the PLO’s status was to be raised again, this time to a state in exile. After several negotiations, Arafat became a Terrorist leader and administrator of self-rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab armies did very badly against Israel, losing 67,000 square kilometres of land. Palestinians came to believe that if they were ever to have their land, they would have to do it themselves. After the 1967 war, the situation changed drastically.
The resistance activities of various guerrilla organizations, in particular the Al-Fatah and the PFLP, gained the increasing support of the Palestinians. With Arafat at the helm from 1969 and a resistance-oriented leadership, the PLO was more effective and played a central role in mobilizing the Palestinians and in expanding its basis of support both at the local and international level. The PLO became an umbrella organization for the various guerrilla groups. This increase in support was made possible because of the Al-Fatah’s ability to access to the growing numbers of volunteers from refugee camps which were freshly swollen due to the 1967 war. Most of these refugees suffered the frustration of having been displaced twice in a lifetime. This generated, especially among the young, a mood of defiance, as they were ready to question the credibility of the idea of relying on Arab governments to liberate Palestine.
Furthermore, as a consequence of the war a large proportion of the Palestinian community became territorially united. This brought the possibility of direct interaction between the various sections of the Palestinian community that had previously remained isolated from each other. On the other hand, the inability of the PLO’s conservative leadership to promote any effective resistance operations culminated in the eventual transfer of power to the armed-struggle orientated guerrilla organizations. Thus initially, the PLO had a broad base of support and represented the desires of the majority of the Palestinian people. The origins of the Al-Fatah can be traced back to the mid-1950s to a group of Palestinians that had neither relinquished their national identity nor their belief in the necessity of liberating Palestine via Palestinian means, rather than relying on other Arab states. Yet, throughout the 1950s the attitude of the Palestinians remained largely skeptical if not uncommitted to Al-Faith’s ideology. It was in the 1960s that the situation began to change, enabling Al-Fatah to expand its organizational structure and base.
Under the leadership of Arafat, Al-Fatah pursued an ideology which simply stresses the nationalist struggle to liberate Palestine without dwelling too deeply on any theoretical speculations about the nature and form of the future Palestinian society. This tactic was essential in gaining support against other movements, and aided the rise of Al-Fatah to become the dominating faction within the PLO. Militarily, the PLO has a broad base of human resources for recruitment, almost half a million. The PLO has established across-the-board conscription for all the Palestinian men between the ages of 18 and 30. As a result, the PLO is able to maintain three military forces. It could be said then that physically, it did indeed represent a cross-section of the population. However, even if they were significant in number, these lower-level members were not politically potent, and did not have their voices heard. Arafat continued on his policies, tending to brush aside differing opinions, leaving many disenchanted with his autocratic rule. Even before the PLO was declared a state in 1988, it functioned much like one.
This was reflected in much of the powers it possessed. The PLO has been able to exert what amounts to sovereign powers over the Palestinian people in war situations. The PLO represented the Palestinians in wars with Jordan and Lebanon, and during various incursions into Israel. The PLO also exercises extradition powers, as on many occasions Arab governments have turned over to the PLO Palestinians charged with criminal activities. They were tried and sentenced by the PLO judicial system.
In these ways, it was supposed to represent the people. But various problems within the PLO undermined its legitimacy as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat’s ascendancy to power on the Palestinian issue had naturally provoked rivals to try the same tack in their own interest. As a result, maintenance of his supremacy within the PLO became Arafat’s full time preoccupation. Far from laying the basis for secular or democratic institutions that one day might serve as a nation, Arafat recruited Sumni Muslims like himself into a body known as Fatah, loyal to him on confessional lines.
Unity itself was a mere appearance, a show for the sake of recov …