Functioning as a Palestinian government, the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964 as a political
body representing the Palestinians in their efforts to reclaim
their country from the Israelis.
Originally an umbrella organization of refugee and military
groups, it was ultimately joined by professional, labour and
student associations and also by some individuals.
The purpose of the PLO is to help the Palestinians “to
recover their usurped homes” and to replace Israel with a secular
Palestinian state. To that end, it has been responsible for
commando acts both in Israel and in other countries.
The PLO works through three parts:
1.the Executive Committee, a decision-making body
2.the Central Committee, an advisory body
3.the Palestine National Council which is generally
viewed as an assembly of the Palestinian people
Yasser Arafat has been the head of the PLO since 1968.
In 1974 at an Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco, the PLO was
recognized as the “sole legitimate representative of the
Palestinian people”. Subsequent to this, Arafat addressed the
United Nations where the organization was given official observer
In 1970 the PLO commandos fought a short but bloody war with
the Jordanian army after which they were expelled from that
country and settled in Lebanon. Little by little, they became a
state within a state, and thus contributed to the disintegration
of Lebanon after 1975.
The aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was
to disperse some 12,000 PLO members to Syria and other Arab
countries. Those loyal to Arafat made their headquarters in
Tunis, where an Israeli bombing raid in 1985 severely damaged
their headquarters and other buildings. Palestine is the ancient
name of a Middle Eastern country situated on the eastern coast
of the Mediterranean Sea. Its size has varied greatly throughout
its history and its exact borders are even now in dispute.
Its location at the junction of trade routes linking three
continents has meant that it was a melting pot for religious and
cultural influences. It has also, unfortunately, been a natural
battleground for the region’s powerful states and thus subject to
domination by them, the first of these being Egypt in the third
When Egyptian power began to wane in the 14th century BC,
the country was again invaded: this time by Hebrews, who were a
Semitic tribe from Mesopotamia, and by Philistines (from whom the
country took its name), an Indo-European people.
The West Bank
The West Bank is a term used to mean the disputed lands
located west of the Jordan River between Israel and Jordan. Its
area is about 5900 sq km (2278 sq mi) and it holds many sites of
religious importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The largest
cities of the West Bank are Hebron (Arabic: El Khalil) and
Part of biblical Samaria and Judaea, the West Bank was a
part of the British Mandate for Palestine from 1920-1948. It was
formally annexed by Jordan in 1950 — an act that was not
recognized by the Arab League, the United Nations or the United
After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the area came under Israeli
The Gaza Strip
The Gaza Strip is a narrow area of desert land along the
western Mediterranean Sea. It is about 42km (26 miles) long and
6.5 to 8km (4 to 5 miles) wide. It too, like the West Bank, was a
part of the British Mandate from 1917 to 1948. Egypt controlled
the Gaza Strip from 1948 until the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (except
for a brief period of Israeli occupation in 1956-57) when it
passed to Israeli control.
The Gaza Strip is densely populated — an estimate in 1993
gave the figure as 800,000 — with more than 99% of its
population being stateless Palestinian Arabs. The majority
are refugees from Israel who have lived under extremely difficult
conditions in refugee camps since 1948.
The flimsy economy is based upon agriculture, livestock,
fishing and some small industry. Poverty and unemployment are
widespread and the success of the 1993 peace accord between the
Palestinians and Israel depends in no small way upon whether
economic progress for the people of the Gaza Strip is an
outgrowth of the accord.
The intifada is a revolt by Palestinian Arabs against
Israeli military occupation of lands taken in the 1967 Arab-
Israeli War. It began in late 1987 in the Gaza Strip and soon
spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It involved throwing
stones at Israeli soldiers, strikes and business boycotts.
Neither the Israeli government nor the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) were prepared for the movement.
The cause of the intifada is undoubtedly the frustration
growing out of the many diplomatic failures to address the
grievances of the Palestinian Arabs. Israeli response to the
movement drew worldwide criticism for its harshness, and the
intifada in fact compelled the Israeli government to re-evaluate
Palestinian nationalism as well as the depth of Palestinian
discontent, anger, and utter frustration.
In September 1993, the PLO and Israel signed an agreement on
Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of
Jericho. The last Israeli troops withdrew on 18 May 1994.