THE PALESTINIAN LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (PLO)

 

FOUNDING

The Arab League, with the intense involvement of Egypt, founded the PLO in 1964, in east Jerusalem; its first chairman was Ahmad Shuqeiri, a protege of Nasser.

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

The legislative body of the PLO -- considered a parliament-in-exile -- is the Palestinian National Council, which has almost 700 members who come from a variety of places, and is headed by a president; it is the ultimate decision making authority.  There is as well a PLO executive committee and a central council.

EARLY YEARS

In its early years the PLO had a pan-Arabic stance. Its Covenant stated specifically that it had no claim on the land under the control of Egypt (the Gaza Strip) or Jordan (Judea-Samaria -- the West Bank).  What it sought to "liberate" was Israel within the armistice lines of 1948. 

MOVE to JORDAN and FATAH TAKEOVER

After the war in 1967, when Israel had secured control of east Jerusalem, the PLO moved to Jordan.  Fatah, with its militant orientation, took over the organization -- which had a leadership vacuum after the defeat in the war --and became its dominant faction by 1968.  At this point its Covenant was changed, and now it sought "liberation" of Gaza and Judea-Samaria, which were under Israeli control.  This was the only time the Covenant was changed (see below for more on this).

Yasser Arafat assumed the PLO chairmanship in 1969, a position he retained until his death.  The PLO, functioning as an umbrella organization that incorporated several revolutionary and nationalistic factions, declared itself the representative of the Palestinian people, wherever they were, and of their nationalist aspirations.

A young Arafat

 

RADICAL LINKS

Over a period of years, the PLO forged links with other radical and revolutionary groups:  in Cuba, Vietnam, China, Algeria and the Soviet Union.  PLO policy was inspired by and formulated in consultation with theorists from these groups.  As the PLO garnered strength, it became a major purveyor of terrorism to many groups around the globe. 

BLACK SEPTEMBER

In 1970, tensions flared between the PLO and Jordan's King Hussein.  When the PLO made moves to take over Jordan, the king forcibly banished the PLO, killing some 2,000 Palestinians and expelling tens of thousands. This happened in September, which became known as Black September.

LEBANON

The PLO then moved to Lebanon, and began a policy of massive terrorist attacks on Israel. Its members carried out skyjackings; engineered the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972; were responsible for the raid at Ma'alot that killed 21 Israeli youngsters; hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship, killing wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer and dumping his body overboard; and executed a great deal more terror as well.

A PLO terrorist at the Munich Olympics

 

"PHASED PROGRAM" 

In 1974, after the Arab defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a new strategy was adopted by the PLO.  In place of the "Total Liberation" plan for "liberating" all of "Palestine" at one time, which was now seen as not feasible, they instituted a "strategy of stages" that said any step achieved toward liberation was good, with the goal to be eventual total liberation.  This meant a readiness to negotiate with Israel, towards that final goal.  The "phased program" allowed the PLO to give an impression of moderation, while concealing their real purpose.  This is clearly documented on the record. 

POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT

As part of the plan to appear more moderate, the PLO began advancing in the political arena.  Arafat appointed Farouk Kaddoumi as "foreign minister" to establish relations with different nations; Kaddoumi is still a player in the PLO today.  Strong ties were developed with the Soviet Union and East Germany -- at one time almost all PLO officers were receiving training in Communist bloc countries. Discrete ties were established with the IRA and West German terrorists as well.  In recent years, there have been strong bonds with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Arafat had an especially close relationship with Saddam Hussein.

In October 1974, Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly (with a pistol at his hip, it should be noted). Following his talk, the GA granted the PLO observer status and acknowledged it as the representative of the Palestinian people.

Arafat at the UN

 

GONE from LEBANON to TUNIS

Inside of Lebanon, the organization was forcibly taking control of UNRWA refugee camps, establishing what has been called a "State within a State," and using the area for launching multiple attacks into Israel.  In a distinct parallel to what transpired when PLO forces had been in Joran, their behavior inspired hatred on the part of Lebanese locals; fighting ensued between the PLO and Lebanese militants.  In June 1982, in Operation Peace for the Galilee, Israel invaded south Lebanon and drove the PLO out.

Now the PLO moved to Tunis, Tunisia, where it continued to promote violence.  When the first Intifada -- ostensibly a popular uprising within the Palestinian population -- broke out in Gaza and Judea-Samaria in 1987, people associated with the PLO helped to organize it. 

AN HISTORIC SHIFT

Because the PLO sided with Saddam during the first Gulf War in 1991, its welcome in other Arab states and the West spiraled downward.

Arafat's friendship with Saddam Hussein went back a long time

 

But then, in the wake of the Gulf War, the Madrid Conference was co-hosted by the US and the USSR.  A joint Palestinian-Jordanian representation was present, and even though the Palestinians were from Gaza and Judea-Samaria, it was an open secret that they took their orders from the PLO.  Following the conference, bi-lateral meetings between Israel and her neighbors were held. For the Palestinians these talks centered on an interim period of self-rule followed by final status negotiations.

OSLO ACCORDS

It was the Oslo process that finally invigorated a failing Palestinian Liberation Organization.  Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and Peres's deputy, Yossi Beilin, concluded that a negotiating process with the Palestinians would be successful only if it involved Arafat and his cohorts in Tunis.  Secret negotiations were held in August 1993, and made public thereafter.  On September 9 and 10, 1993, Israeli PM Rabin and PLO Chair Arafat exchanged letters of mutual recognition.  On September 13, 1993, Rabin and Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn.

The reluctant handshake:  Israeli PM Rabin shaking Arafat's hand at the signing on the White House lawn.

 

One day later, in an interview on Jordan TV, Arafat put the lie to the commitments he had just publicly made:

"Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do this in stages.  We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine and establish a sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more.  When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel." 

Ten days after the signing, Arafat gave a talk in South Africa (in which he referred to the "Hudaibiyah Pact") suggesting that the Accords would be temporary and that he would wait for the right time to find a pretext and do battle with Israel.

In any event, the Accords rested on nothing more than Arafat's signature, on the Palestinian side.  It was never approved by the PLO Executive Committee, or by the PLO Central Council. Arafat never even brought it before the full National Council, and the Fatah Central Committee never approved it either.  The world, however, eager for a "peace process," proceeded as if the Accords had been ratified.

On May 4, 1994, in Cairo, a Gaza-Jericho First agreement was signed, spelling out the first withdrawals that Israel would make and establishing a new quasi-governmental administrative authority -- The Palestinian Authority. As the vast majority of those who assumed positions within the PA were also members of the PLO -- beginning with Arafat, who became President of the PA -- there was a great deal of overlap.  The PLO, however, continues to exist as a separate entity, and in theory is the organization having the jurisdiction to negotiate with Israel (although in point of fact it has been the PA that has done so).  In reality, the existence of the PA has conferred greater respectability on the PLO, and at times has provided it with a cover. 

______________________________

THE PLO COVENANT

A well nurtured myth prevails that in accordance with Olso agreements the Palestinian National Council revised the PLO Covenant in 1996, removing objections to the existence of Israel.  What actually happened is this:  When Yasser Arafat exchanged letters with Yitzhak Rabin on September 9, 1993, he committed himself to making necesssary changes to the Covenant.  In April 1996, the Palestinian National Council convened in Gaza and adopted a resolution empowering a committee to take on the task of redrafting the National Charter.  This resolution in and of itself did not change that Covenant.  The committee never met and no changes were made. 

PLO STRATEGIES and GOALS

The final goal of the PLO remains the destruction of Israel.

Any misrepresentation, any subterfuge, is permissible in service of this goal. The appearance of moderation is a key strategic deception. 

Violence of the most obscene and gratutitious sort -- terrorism -- is a legitimate weapon.  At no point should the ability to inflict violent harm on Israel be surrendered but it is desirable to maintain a distance from terrorist groups.

The war that is fought is a "People's War," a conflict that involves political elements as well as military.  Efforts should be made to delegitimize Israel and represent the Palestinian Arabs as an oppressed people. 

PLO FINANCES

In 1970, while still in Jordan, the PLO had established "the Palestinian Martyr's Sons Enterprises," or SAMED, to provide vocational training for children of Palestinians who had died "for the cause."  Once in Lebanon, they vastly enlarged this operation into what became a huge finacial empire, managed by Ahmed Qurei (who was later PA prime minister).  Using cheap labor from refugee camps, farming and manufacturing industries were established. 

Under the watchful eye of Arafat, who signed all checks, the operation branched out to Arab and African states and Communist east Europe.  SAMED was involved with restaurants, retail stores, and oil refineries.  Huge investments were made in real estate in Cyprus, Greece, France, Spain and England, and in media outlets.  There was PLO money in Wall Street and in stock exchanges in Tokyo, Paris and Frankfurt; reportedly the organization had considerable economic influence in France, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Scandinavia.

While the financial empire of the PLO is not what it once was, it does still exist, and reportedly still has considerable assets. 

PLO CRIME

Among the techniques that have been utilized by the PLO for amassing its fortune have been a variety of illicit activities that have included drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering and counterfeiting.  The drug trade got big when the PLO had access to the poppy fields in the Bekka Valley of Lebanon.  From the late 60s, the PLO was the world-wide distributor of Soviet arms. In addition to providing weapons, other sorts of assistance were given to terrorist groups -- for a price; it has provided safe havens in Arab countries and even ran a tuition-based school for international terrorists. 

With all of the "big time" activity, the PLO also indulged in "routine" crime:  bank robberies, assassination for hire, extortion, blackmail, merchandise counterfeiting, etc. The PLO has easily rivaled -- and has probably exceeded -- the ruthlessness of the Mafia. 

At the height of their activity, the leaders of the PLO expended far more energy on its network of criminal activities than on efforts on behalf of the Palestinians.  Yet, with consummate public relations skill, they generated an image as a liberation movement working for the sake of a beleaguered people.