Government and Politics

Palestine Liberation Organization

What is the Palestine Liberation Organization?

It is a group formed in 1964 by Arabs in Palestine, a region coextensive with the nation of Israel. Known as the PLO, the organization seeks to establish an area of self-rule for Muslims. Dominated by then guerrilla leader Yasser Arafat (1929–2004), the PLO regarded Israel as an illegitimate state and became determined to establish a Palestinian state in the region. In 1974 the PLO was recognized by the United Nations and by Arab countries as the governing body of the Palestinian people; however, the Palestinians remained without a homeland and continued to fight for one, often resorting to terrorist tactics.

In 1993 Israel and the PLO, still under Arafat’s leadership, officially recognized each other: In an internationally brokered agreement, Israel agreed that by early 1996 it would withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip, a tiny ribbon of land along the Mediterranean and bordering Egypt, and most cities and towns of the West Bank, a larger region lying west of the Jordan River and Dead Sea. (The city of Jerusalem, recognized by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capitals, straddles the western border of the West Bank and is divided into an Arab East Jerusalem and a Jewish-Israeli West Jerusalem.) The 1993 Arab-Israeli agreement, called the Oslo Accords, effectively carved out an autonomous Palestinian homeland, or at least an autonomous region. To govern this region, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was set up.

In 1994 Arafat and Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995) and Shimon Peres (1923-) were awarded the Nobel peace prize for their efforts. In January 1996 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank elected a legislature and a president (Arafat) to govern these areas.

But the accords foundered: both sides contributed to an escalation of violence in the long-troubled region. In 2003 the Roadmap for Peace, developed by the United States, in cooperation with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, was presented to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The plan outlined clear goals and timelines for their achievement for both sides. Still the violence continued, with both sides failing to take the reciprocal steps necessary to peaceably coexist in the region. Cautious hopes for peace were again raised in February 2005 when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (who in January succeeded Arafat) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met at an Egyptian resort for summit talks. The two announced a verbal cease-fire pledge: Sharon promised that the Israeli military would end assaults on Palestinians, and Abbas vowed to bring an end to militant attacks on Israelis. But there were obstacles to the agreement: Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank needed to be dismantled; the Palestinians needed to gain control of the militant group Hamas, responsible for hundreds of acts of terrorism against Israelis; and the Israeli military needed to step down its responses. The Palestinian government remained tied to the PLO.


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