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Hundreds of thousands of Arab residents of the former state of Palestine fled during Israel’s War of Independence during 1948-9 (called in Arabic, al-Nakba, “the catastrophe”). Historians debate their reasons for flight. Were they expelled by Israel? Did they choose to leave of their own accord, encouraged by neighboring Arab nations, hoping to return to a state under Arab control? Whatever the reasons, the result was a refugee problem. The question of establishing a homeland for these Palestinian refugees has been and continues to be a major issue in world politics.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been a major player in this conflict since 1964. The following article discusses the organization and activities of the PLO from 1964-1987. In the years since then, the PLO engaged in the peace process leading to the Oslo Accords, which broke down with the second Intifada and a wave of suicide bombings in Israel. Since Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas has led the PLO.
Founded in 1964 as an umbrella organization of Palestinian military groups, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) stated as its founding goal the destruction of Israel and its replacement with a “secular, democratic state.” It pursued this aim first by launching guerrilla attacks against Israel from bases in Jordan. These attacks intensified after the 1967 Six-Day War brought the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under Israeli control. Yasser Arafat, co-founder and head of Al-Fatah, the PLO’s largest and best-funded constituent group, became Chairman of the PLO in 1968.
Israeli military responses to PLO attacks and the gradual development of a PLO-run “state within a state” in Jordan, whose population included many Palestinian refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, brought the organization into direct confrontation with the Jordanian government. In a civil war that erupted in what the Palestinians called “black September” of 1970, forces loyal to Jordan’s King Hussein expelled armed PLO elements into Lebanon.
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