The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been the embodiment of the Palestinian national movement. It is a broad national front, or an umbrella organization, comprised of numerous organizations of the resistance movement, political parties, popular organizations, and independent personalities and figures from all sectors of life. The Arab Summit in 1974 recognized the PLO as the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and since then the PLO has represented Palestine at the United Nations, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and in many other fora. In addition to its broad national and political goals, the PLO has dealt with numerous tasks with regard to the life of the Palestinian people in their main communities and throughout the world through the establishment of several institutions in such realms as health, education and social services. As such, the PLO is more than a national liberation movement striving to achieve the national goals of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

The PLO was established in 1964 with Arab support. At that time, the PLO was headed by Mr. Ahmed Al-Shukairy and, since then, has undergone significant changes in its composition, leading bodies, political orientation, and even the locales of its headquarters. The leading bodies of the PLO are the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Central Council, and the Executive Committee. Political pluralism has remained a defining feature of the organization, as have democratic internal dialogue and attempts to reach decisions by consensus in its bodies, recognizing the presence of many differing views and competing alliances throughout different periods. In 1968, the organization witnessed the beginning of the engagement of the Feda’iyeen organizations (armed struggle organizations), particularly Fateh. In 1969, Yasser Arafat, leader of Fateh, became the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO and, in 1971, he became the General Commander of the Palestine Forces. Over the decades, his name has been synonymous with the PLO and with the Palestinian national movement even till this day. Yasser Arafat died on 11 November 2004. Mahmoud Abbas then became the Chair of the PLO.

Since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the convening of the first general elections in January 1996 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, which were preceded by the return of most Palestinian leaders to their homeland, the Authority’s role and responsibilities continue to increase, in some ways at the expense of the PLO. In the Palestinian territory, as well as outside, Islamic groups remain outside the PLO, which traditionally has not mixed religion and politics.
In general, the current Palestinian situation is constantly changing and progressing towards the establishment of a state and the building of a Palestinian democracy. These changes will affect the PLO, but there is no doubt that, at least for some time, the PLO will continue its role as a very important Palestinian structure for the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, in the refugee camps, and throughout the world.

· Prior to Al-Nakba of 1948, the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine, headed by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, decided to establish a government to fill the void at the end of the British Mandate of Palestine. In the autumn of 1948, the matter became urgent and on 23 September, the Government of All of Palestinewas established, headed by Mr. Ahmad Hilmi Abdelbaky. To support the new government, the Arab Higher Committee called for the convening of a Palestine National Council, which met in Gaza on 1 October 1948 and was attended by many Palestinian personalities. At the meeting of the Council, support was given to the government based on the Declaration of Independence of Palestine within its international boundaries. The government was accepted by the Arab states, with the exception of Jordan, which actively resisted it. The government was invited to, and attended, the October 30th meeting of the Council of the League of Arab States. After that, Palestine continued to be represented at the League by Mr. Abdelbaky.

· In September 1963, the Council of the League of Arab States decided that Mr. Ahmed Al-Shukairy would replace Mr. Abdelbaky after the death of the latter. The Council’s decision stated that "it is high time for the people of Palestine to take their cause into their own hands and it is the duty of the Arab states to provide them with the opportunity to exercise that right."

· In January 1964, Arab kings and presidents held their first summit in Cairo, Egypt. The summit decided, on 13 January, to work "to organize the Palestinian people and to enable them to take their role in the liberation of their homeland and self-determination." The summit mandated Mr. Ahmed Al-Shukairy to contact the Palestinian people and the Arab states with the aim of reaching the appropriate basis for the establishment of the Palestinian entity. The support of President Nasser of Egypt was crucial during this period.

· On 28 May 1964, the 1st Palestinian Conference was held in Jerusalem with the participation of 422 members. The conference was attended by King Hussein of Jordan, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr. Abdel-Khaliq Hassouna, and by high level Arab representatives from Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, the United Arab Republic (Egypt), Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and the Republic of Yemen. The participants in the conference represented the Palestinian communities in Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Libya, and Algeria. At a late stage during preparations for the conference, a decision was taken by the preparatory committee to include, as members, all Palestinian members of the Jordanian parliament and upper chamber (Al-A’yan), as well as of Jordanian ministries. In general, participation reflected a broad representation of Palestinians, with emphasis on independent figures (with no party affiliation) and on the participation of women’s organizations, trade unionists, and religious leaders as well.

· The conference established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the Palestinian entity. It adopted both a declaration of the establishment of the organization and the Palestine National Charter (Al-Mithaq Al-Kawmee Al-Philisteeni*). The conference also decided to transform itself into the Palestine National Council (PNC). It adopted a "Fundamental Law" of the organization and elected Mr. Al-Shukairy as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO. The conference also established the Palestine National Fund and elected Mr. Abdel Maguid Shoman as the Chairman of the Board.

· The Palestine National Charter, adopted by the PNC, consisted of an introduction and 29 articles. The Charter defined Palestinians as those Arab citizens who were living in Palestine up to 1947, whether they remained or were expelled, as well as every child who was born to a Palestinian Arab father after this date. The Charter also considered Jews of Palestinian origin as Palestinians if they were willing to live peacefully and loyally in Palestine. It considered the partitioning of Palestine, which took place in 1947, and the establishment of Israel as illegal and null and void, regardless of the passage of time. The same position was also taken with regard to the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate System. The Charter also indicated that the organization did not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Gaza Strip or the Himmah Area. Its activities were to be on the national popular level in the liberational, organizational, political and financial fields.

· Following the conference, the departments of the organization opened offices in Jerusalem and the organization opened representative offices in the Arab states. Consultations led to the establishment of Palestinian army units, in agreement with the Arab states and the Arab joint command. Three such brigades were established - one in Syria (Hiteen), a second in Gaza (Ein Jalut) and a third in Iraq (Al-Kadisiyah) - forming the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA).

· The 2nd session of the PNC was held in Cairo from 31 May to 4 June 1965. The 3rd session was held in Gaza from 20 to 24 May 1966. In the meantime, and especially after the 1967 war, Mr. Shukairy increasingly began to encounter disagreements from Pan-Arab parties, such as the Al-Baath parties in both Syria and Iraq and the Movement of Arab Nationalists, as well as from the Feda’iyeen organizations (armed struggle organizations), which represented a new emerging force, and from some other Arab sources.

· On 14 December 1967, seven members of the Executive Committee sent a memo to Mr. Shukairy, requesting his resignation and, on 24 December, he submitted his resignation "to the Palestinian people". The Executive Committee accepted the resignation on the same day and chose Mr. Yehya Hammoudeh as acting Chairman. Efforts intensified to reorganize the PNC, with the active participation of the Feda’iyeen organizations, especially Fateh, which adopted a position agreeing to work within the PLO. Contacts eventually led to an agreement on a 100-member PNC with the following membership composition: 38 for Fateh and its allies at the time, including the Vanguards of the Popular Liberation war (Al-Saika); 10 for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and its allies; 20 for the Palestine Liberation Army and the Popular Liberation Troops; 3 for popular organizations (namely students, workers, and women); and 29 independents.

· The 4th session of the PNC was held in Cairo from 10 to 17 July 1968, marking the beginning of what can be called the second stage in the history of the PLO. The Council elected Mr. Abdel Mohsen Qatan as Speaker. The Council adopted amendments to the Charter, effectively establishing a new one with a new name: "Palestine National Charter" (Al-Mithaq Al-Watanee Al-Philisteeni). In general, the new Charter stressed an independent national identity, as well as the exercise of armed struggle. Similar to the original Charter, the new Charter spoke of Arab unity, however it also focused more on the vanguard role of the Palestinian people in liberating their homeland. Further, it emphasized a distinct Palestinian identity and the leading role of the PLO in the struggle to liberate Palestine. The Charter also addressed the colonialist and expansionist nature of the Zionist movement.

· The session also changed the "Fundamental Law" to include the election of the entire Executive Committee by the PNC, instead of only that of the Chairman. It separated the post of the Speaker of the PNC from the Chairman of the Executive Committee and incorporated a text aimed at affirming the authority of the Executive Committee over the army. The session also decided to extend the mandate of the Executive Committee and its Chairman, Mr. Yehya Hammoudeh.

· The PNC held its 5th session in Cairo from 1 to 4 February 1969, where final steps were taken towards reforming the PLO. A new Executive Committee was elected, as well as a new Chairman, Mr. Yasser Arafat, head of the Fateh Movement.

· Many developments took place on the Palestinian scene after the 5th PNC session, especially with regard to the Feda’iyeen organizations. The Popular Democratic Liberation Front of Palestine (PDFLP) evolved after a split within the PFLP, following a similar split in late 1968 which had led to the creation of the PFLP-General Command. The Arab leadership of the Al-Baath party in Iraq formed the Arab Liberation Front, which was preceded by the establishment of Al-Sa’ika by the Al-Baath party in Syria. Finally, the Front for Popular Struggle opted out of Fateh.

· The 6th session of the PNC was held in Cairo from 1 to 6 September 1969, with the members of the Council increasing to 112. The session elected Mr. Yehya Hammoudeh as Speaker. The composition reflected an increase in the presence of Feda’iyeen organizations, each with their own quota for representation, as well as an increase in representation for popular organizations from 3 representatives to 11 representatives. It also reflected a sharp decrease in the representation of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) after it became clear that the brigades of the army remained part of the command of their respective Arab armies. The session also entailed serious work aimed at strengthening the institutions of the PLO, including the Palestine Red Crescent Society, which is responsible for the health of the Palestinian people.

· The PLO faced a difficult and bitter period on the Arab front after the 6th PNC session with the U.S. initiative presented by William Rogers and the Palestinian-Jordanian conflict, which reached the level of military conflict in 1970-71. The 7th session of the PNC was convened from 30 May to 4 June 1970 and, immediately afterwards, due to political developments, an exceptional session of the PNC was held at Al-Wihdat refugee camp in Amman on 27 August 1970. Both sessions rejected the Rogers Initiative and emphasized Palestinian internal affairs.

· The PNC held its 8th session on 28 February 1971 in Cairo and decided to establish a Unified General Command of the forces of the Palestinian revolution. It appointed Yasser Arafat as the Commander of those forces. A few months later, the 9th PNC session was held on 7 to 13 July 1971 in Cairo and was composed of 155 members. The number reflected an increase in the number of representatives from popular organizations, as well as from organizations of the Palestinian resistance (the expression "Palestinian resistance" largely came to replace that of the "Feda’iyeen"). The Council elected Mr. Khaled Al-Fahoum as Speaker.

· The 10th session of the PNC was held as an exceptional session in Cairo from 6 to 10 April 1972, and was followed by a Popular Conference. Both sessions were held in response to and in the wake of the termination of the Palestinian military presence in northern Jordan and in the wake of the announcement of the project of the United Arab Kingdom by King Hussein of Jordan, which was rejected by the PNC.

· The PNC’s 11th session was held in Cairo from 1 to 12 January 1973. The most important decision taken was the establishment of the Central Council as an intermediary body between the PNC and the Executive Committee, which would meet every three months.
· In the wake of the October War in 1973 and the increased Arab efforts towards a peaceful settlement, political polarization took place on the Palestinian scene between the forces in favor and against Palestinian engagement in those efforts. In February 1974, a group of organizations of the Palestinian resistance formed the "Front of the Palestinian Forces Rejecting Solutions of Surrender" (or Rejectionist Front), which was supported by Iraq. Nonetheless, the two sides intensified their dialogue with the aim of reaching a common political position and maintaining national unity. This period also witnessed an increased in the presence of the PLO in Lebanon.

The PLO attains full membership in the OIC on 22 February 1974.
· The 12th session of the PNC was held from 1 to 8 June 1974. In what can be considered a major change, it adopted a political program that came to be known as the "10-Point Program", calling for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority on any liberated part of Palestine. The council elected the Executive Committee, including three representatives from the Palestinian National Front, which functions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (In October 1974, the Arab Summit decided to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the people of Palestine.)

· In 13 November 1974, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO becomes the first representative of a liberation movement, not a member state, to address the United Nations General Assembly plenary. Later, on 22 November 1974, resolution 3236 is adopted, reaffirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination. On that same day, the PLO is granted observer status at the U.N. by resolution 3237 (XXIX).
· After becoming an observer in 1970, the PLO attains full membership in NAM in 1976.

· The 13th PNC session was held in Cairo from 12 to 22 March 1977. Its main political feature of was reconciliation with Syria after the events that took place following the Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976.

· The 14th session of the PNC was held from 15 to 22 January 1979 in Damascus, Syria, during an exceptional and short period of reconciliation between Iraq and Syria. The session ended in an unruly way and Arafat, sensing outside pressure, abruptly left along with many other members, practically ending the session. The 15th session was also held in Damascus, Syria in April 1981.

· The 16th session of the PNC was convened in Algeria in February 1983 in the aftermath of the departure of PLO forces from Beirut, the distribution of those forces to several Arab countries, and the establishment of the PLO headquarters in Tunis. The atmosphere reflected the new situation on the Palestinian scene and the numerous developments that took place after the 1982. Among the most serious was a revolt within Fateh, which manifested itself on the ground in the Bekka valley and in the north of Lebanon. A military conflict took place between Fateh forces in Tripoli and the revolting forces, supported by the Syrian army, which led to the departure of the Fateh forces. At the same time, four Palestinian organizations established a democratic coalition which tried to negotiate between the leadership of Fateh and the PLO, on the one hand, and the Fateh split and Syria on the other.

· As a result of those developments, Fateh decided to call for a meeting of the PNC and the 17th session of the PNC was convened in Amman from 22 to 29 November 1984. Sheikh Abdelhamid Al-Sayeh was elected Speaker. The session was boycotted by most organizations of the Palestinian resistance, with the exception of the Palestine Liberation Front and the Communist party. Achieving the necessary quorum for the session was a remarkable success for the leadership. The session protected Palestinian legitimacy and paved the way for further cooperation between the Palestinian and Jordanian sides.

· The 18th session of the PNC was held in Algiers from 20 to 25 April 1987. It added 40 members to the Council, bringing the overall membership, which had been gradually increasing during its previous sessions, to 451. The session adopted some amendments to the decision establishing the Central Council, including the enlargement of the Council.

· Another major development in PLO history took place in 1988, almost one year after the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada (uprising), with the convening of the 19th session of the PNC in Algiers in November 1988. The session adopted, on 15 November 1988, the Declaration of Independence of Palestine, as well a political communiqué. The Declaration accepted General Assembly resolution 181(II) of 1947 and the communiqué accepted Security Council resolution 242 of 1967.

· The PNC convened its 20th Session in Algeria in 1991. The session approved the Palestinian participation in the Madrid Peace Conference based on the principle of land for peace and Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. The Council authorized the Central Council of the PLO to deal with the matter.

· The Central Council met in Tunisia from 10 to 12 October 1993 to consider the Declaration of Principles (DOP). By a large majority, the Council accepted the agreement through endorsement of the decision of the Executive Committee in this regard. The Council also authorized the Executive Committee to form the Council of the Palestinian National Authority for the transitional period. The Council chose Mr. Yasser Arafat as President of the Council of the National Authority.

· The PNC held its 21st session on 21 April in Gaza City in Palestine for the first time since 1966. Mr. Saleem Zanoun was elected as Speaker. The session voted, by majority, to "abrogate the provisions of the PLO Charter that are contrary to the exchanged letters between the PLO and the Government of Israel of 9 and 10 September 1993."
* "Al-Kawmee" has no exact equivalent in English, but reflects the notion of Pan-Arabism.