The PLO, the Enemy Within

50 years after it was launched, the PLO has travelled a road from rejection and war to acceptance and collaboration. (WAFA/file)

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

The Palestinians, who are allowed by Israel to live in the occupied lands’ towns and villages, are in peril! They are devastated and humiliated at checkpoints, house arrests, and in violent dispersal of their peaceful demonstrations. The Palestinians are traumatized every day when the Israelis break into their homes and drag the young and the old out from their beds to face midnight interrogations. As a malignant cancer as it is, occupation and living in apartheid enclaves have become an integral part of the Palestinians’ being. Intimidation by Israeli military and the settlers, and the nightmare of occupation, are ugly pillars of the Palestinians’ daily life.

I am not even talking about the disseminated ruined besieged and starved Palestinians in Gaza. I am talking about life in the West Bank, the center of Fatah and the PLO fiefdom power. The Israelis are tyrannizing the Palestinians and depriving them of their human rights and freedom.

If there is any life or any dignity left in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), it has to motivate it to live up to its name and fight the occupation with a passion. But rather than providing absolute safety and security for their people, the PLO leaders use the tools they have to coordinate with the Israelis to protect the occupation institutions and the hoards of settlers.

Mahmud Abbas, the supreme leader of the PLO was the architect of the infamous Oslo agreements, and he publically relinquished the 1948 refugees’ right of return and legitimized Israel’s ethnic cleansing. This is consistent with his long standing strategy of capitulation of the Palestinian’s rights. He even congratulated Egypt’s dictator for establishing a large buffer zone to seal the border with Gaza that has created a humanitarian crisis in the Strip. The PLO leadership became the Palestinians’ enemy within!

The PLO leaders continue to call their organization the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in and out of the occupied territory. And they consider the PLO National Council the (PNC) the Palestinian parliament in exile, responsible for formulating the policies and programs of the PLO. But last time Palestinians under occupation voted for a legislative council (PLC), they chose Hamas, a non-PLO political group, to represent them; thus the legitimacy of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians today is in question.

The PNC is supposed to meet every two years and elect its chairman but it became one of the casualties of Oslo and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Last time the PNC met was in December 1998, ironically, at the insistence of the Israeli government to annul the parts of the PLO Covenant that Israel did not like. Israel was eager to have all members of the PNC attend the meeting including those whom Israel accused of killing Israelis. The meeting to annul the PLO covenant was more like the Japanese generals surrender meeting on the deck of USS Missouri warship in World War II. US President Clinton attended the PNC meeting and praised its historic concessions. Majority of the PNC surviving members today are aging men preoccupied with running their families’ businesses while enjoying the personal privileges accorded to them by the PA and Israel.

Once the Oslo agreement was signed, some concerned members of the PLO resigned in protest, including the late Edward Said. He wrote that the greatest tragedy of the Palestinians is that they “have been under such comprehensive assault—not only by Israel, but also by the Arab governments, and since Oslo, by the PLO under Arafat.”

After establishing the Palestinian Authority, the PLO organization has become subservient to the Palestinian Authority and a one-man show controlled and manipulated by Mahmud Abbas to score points with his personal foes and reward his friends. Abbas wears many PLO hats: the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, Chairman of the PNC, and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

The PLO was created by the Arab regimes to stop the Zionists’ project when they failed to even slow it down. Between 1949 and 1967, the Arab League, and in particular Jordan and Egypt, claimed to speak for the Palestinians. They discouraged-at times even prevented- any active Palestinian’s participation in the political process. The total defeat of the Arab states in 1967 ended such claims and gave added importance to politically activist Palestinians involved in the liberation movement. The Arab League summit that was held in Khartoum in September 1967 underscored the Palestinians’ right to regain the whole historic Palestine and declared “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with it.”

The Palestinians were not even invited to Khartoum, but since the conference negated the possibility of participating in conventional war or even negotiations with Israel for the near future, it placed the Palestinians and their militant groups in the vanguard of the armed struggle. Palestinian armed guerrilla squads replaced defeated and humiliated regular Armies, and they rapidly became the symbol of the Palestinian resistance to Israel’s colonialism. They became a major international player and acquired an entirely new role.

In October 1959, Yasser Arafat and Salah Khalaf convened a series of meetings with a handful of other expatriate Palestinian professionals in Kuwait to establish ‘Fatah’, without the knowledge of the Kuwaiti government, a secular political party that advocated armed struggle to liberate Palestine. Its charter called on the Palestinians to transcend factionalism and use all means to recover their national rights. Over the ensuing five years Fatah aggressively recruited and organized members and supporters from Palestinian expatriates in the Arab countries.

While the clandestine Fatah organization was growing in numbers, the Arab states decided to create their own official organ to represent Palestinian aspirations. In 1964, the first summit of Arab leaders met in Cairo and created a new organization to represent the Palestinians, dubbed “the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).” The declared purpose of the PLO was to enable the Palestinian people “to play their role in the liberation of their country and their self determination.”

Few Palestinians had been consulted in the establishment of their own liberation organization, and Nasser had imposed a lawyer named Ahmad Shuqayri to head the PLO. As a follow up to the summit, 422 invited delegates, drawn mostly from elite families, met in the City of Jerusalem. They constituted themselves as the Palestinian National Council (PNC), a sort of parliament, and adopted the Palestine National Covenant. The new organization called for the creation of a Palestinian national army, which would come to be called Palestine Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA, whose units were dispersed in various Arab countries were subservient to the host country’s military command.

Arafat and his Fatah colleagues had grave misgivings about the new organization. They were convinced that the PLO had been created by the Arab regimes to control the Palestinians rather than to involve them in the liberation of their country. Fatah leadership determined to upstage the new official organ by launching the first military operation against Israel on New Year’s Day of 1965. It was a military failure but a propaganda success. Fatah issued a long military communiqué under assumed name, al-Asifa, and Laila Khalid wrote: “On January 1, 1965, Fatah opened a new era in modern Palestinian history.” Salah Khalaf claimed Fatah carried out about 200 raids [in Israel] in two years” but he acknowledged such attacks were “limited in scope and not the sort that could endanger Israeli state security.” Fatah joined the PLO in 1966, Arafat gained its chairmanship in no time, and Shuqayri was swiftly forgotten.

Gradually a number of semi-independent Palestinian guerrilla groups emerged on the scene and joined the PLO in addition to Fatah, and the PLO became the umbrella for many organizations with different ideologies. Their nationalist rhetoric was reminiscent of the Viet Cong, then successfully confronting the powerful American armed forces in South-East Asia, and of the FLN which had driven France out of Algeria. The PLO executive committee and leadership have been monopolized by Fatah since then. The Arab states recognized the PLO as “the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and Arafat was invited to address the UN General Assembly in 1974.

For 25 years, the PLO carried on a struggle designated variously from different perspectives. It was viewed by Palestinians as a guerrilla war of liberation against Israel, but some of it was random terrorism against neutral targets for publicity. The attacks became the headlines in the international news media and people everywhere became aware of the issue.

After the 1967 war and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, millions of the Palestinians were geographically united (albeit under Israeli rule) as never before since 1948, further galvanizing their national identity. The late eighties and early nineties saw the transfer of the struggle to the occupied territories and the emergence of a new phase of popular resistance and rebellion, known as “Intifada.” The Intifada was directed, not against neutral targets abroad for publicity, but against the personnel and instruments of the occupation.

Israel for the first time in its history felt the heat of Palestinian resistance and looked for a way to end the assault on occupation. Ironically, the Israeli leaders went to the PLO for the rescue. The PLO that was calling for liberating historic Palestine decided to go along with Israeli plans, recognize Israel, co-exist with the occupation institutions, and minimizing any apparent responsibility for the Palestinians. Israel today cannot survive as a colonialist state without the PA, the creation of the PLO.

Fifty years after it was launched, the PLO has travelled an anguished road from rejection and war to acceptance and collaboration. Today, it is confronted with its contradictions and the solution cannot continue to be answered with polemics and will not submit itself to the usual arguments and counter-arguments by its present leadership.

– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to

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