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Palestine Liberation Organization

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), coordinating council for Palestinian organizations, founded (1964) by Egypt and the Arab League and initially controlled by Egypt. Composed of various guerrilla groups and political factions, the PLO is dominated by Al Fatah, the largest group, whose leader, Yasir Arafat, was chairman of the PLO from 1969 to 2004 and established Palestinian control over the organization. Other groups in the PLO include the Syrian-backed As Saiqa and the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The PLO was initially committed to the dissolution of Israel, mainly through the use of armed force. Since its founding, the organization has sponsored innumerable guerrilla raids on Israeli civilian and military targets. although it has disclaimed responsibility for many of the Palestinian movement's more spectacular acts of terror. In 1974 the PLO received UN recognition, and a government in exile was recognized by Arab nations as a basis for a future Palestinian state, to be formed from land regained from Israel along the west bank of the Jordan River. In 1976 the PLO was granted full membership in the Arab League.

In 1982 the PLO was weakened when, after the Israeli siege of Beirut, Lebanon (see Arab-Israeli Wars), PLO guerrillas in West Beirut were dispersed to other Arab countries. In 1988 the PLO responded to the Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by proclaiming the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The PLO also equivocally recognized Israel's right to exist and renounced terrorism.

In 1991 the Lebanese army, with Syrian backing, forced the PLO out of its strongholds in S Lebanon, and PLO relations with the West deteriorated because of PLO support of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. In 1993, a peace agreement between the PLO and Israel was reached providing for mutual recognition and a transition to a degree of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 1994, Arafat appointed an interim 19-member Palestinian Authority, under his direction, to administer Palestinian affairs in the areas of self-rule; the Palestinian Authority has since become independent of the PLO. Under a 1995 accord, self-rule was extended over a two-year period to all major Arab cities and villages in the West Bank, except East Jerusalem.

Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian-controlled territory in 1996. In the same year the PLO formally revoked all clauses in its founding charter that called for the dissolution of Israel, and Arafat pledged to fight terrorism. Agreements in the late 1990s gradually increased the area of the West Bank under Palestinian control, but violence resumed in 2000 after further negotiations with Israel stalled. Following Arafat's death in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him as PLO chairman and in 2005 as Palestinian president. In the Palestinian legislative council elections in 2006, Hamas won a majority of the seats in a victory that in part was a rejection of the corruption and failures associated with the PLO. Subsequently there was fighting between Al Fatah and Hamas forces in 2006 and 2007, and when Hamas seized control in Gaza in June, 2007, Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led government, accusing it of an attempted coup. Attempts since then to establish a national unity government that includes both Al Fatah and Hamas have failed.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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