The Palestine Liberation Organization

A history of the founding and activities of the PLO.

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Two weeks later, Yasser Arafat, a revolver strapped to his hip in a dramatic breach of UN decorum, addressed the UN General Assembly with the words, "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

In response, the UN affirmed the "inalienable rights" of Palestinians to national independence and the following year awarded the PLO "observer" status in the General Assembly and many UN organizations. In 1976, the PLO was admitted to full membership in the Arab League.

Israeli Response

Despite the PLO's success in bringing the Palestinian issue to world attention, Israel refused to deal with it, preferring, with limited success, to try to develop an independent Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. A 1980 Israeli law made it a crime for Israeli citizens to have contact with the PLO. American policy toward the PLO, though it wavered somewhat, generally insisted that the PLO renounce violence to achieve US recognition.

In Lebanon, into which Jordan had expelled the PLO fighters, the organization again used its host country's Palestinian refugee population to establish a quasi-independent entity ("Fatahland," in Israeli parlance) as a base for launching attacks against Israel. These included bloody incursions into the northern Israeli towns of Ma'alot and Kiryat Shemonah in which many civilians were killed.

PLO violence prompted Israel's June, 1982, invasion of Lebanon, which drove the PLO out of the country, with forces loyal to Arafat establishing a new organizational headquarters in Tunisia.


A 1987 general uprising against Israeli rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, known as the first intifada (literally, "shaking"), put the Palestinian question back on Israel's and the world's agenda and incidentally gave the Palestinians another potent symbol--rock-throwing youths defying well-armed Israeli soldiers and tanks. Although an indigenous leadership in the "occupied territories" guided the uprising, it deferred to Yasser Arafat and the PLO as its political representative.

During this uprising, Jordan officially renounced its claims to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, paving the way for the PLO to announce the establishment of a "state of Palestine," which claimed Jerusalem as its capital without defining its borders. With this step, the PLO became a kind of government-in-exile that was soon recognized by some 70 countries.

The following year, the Palestine National Council, the PLO's governing body, named Arafat president of the new "state." During this period, the PLO also formally accepted UN resolutions 242 and 338 (the basis of the "land for peace" formula), thereby implicitly acknowledging Israel's right to exist. That set the stage for the peace process that would result in the Oslo Accords, which ultimately failed to bring a lasting peace.

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David Margolis

David Margolis (1943-2005) was a Jerusalem-based writer. Examples of his fiction and journalism can be seen at