Creation, aims, methods & effectiveness of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) 1964 - 1974

See also Yasser Arafat and The Peace Process.



1. The PLO was created in 1964 under the leadership of Ahmed Shukheiry, a Palestinian lawyer, at a conference in East Jerusalem attended by the Arab foreign ministers. Its founding manifesto stated that it was formed “to attain the objective of liquidating Israel”.

2. In 1957 Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian engineer born in Cairo, founded the Fatah in Kuwait. After 1965 Fatah conducted raids into Israel from Syria and the Jordanian West Bank, and it regarded itself as a rival to the PLO.

3. In May 1968 a Palestinian National Conference was held in Cairo. Fatah joined the PLO and Arafat became Chairman. The PLO was organised as an umbrella group for the various para-military groups, which were represented on the Executive of the Organisation. The Conference formally adopted the Palestinian National Covenant, which asserted that Palestine, “with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate” (that is, including both Israel and Jordan) was indivisible, and that Palestine was to be liberated by armed struggle, described as “commando action”. (See below, and see The Palestinian National Covenant for the full text of the Covenant.)

4. The PLO and its associated groups now adopted a policy of terrorism against civilians on an international basis, which at this time often took the form of bombings and the hijacking of airliners. Sometimes the targets were Jewish or Israeli, but this was not necessarily the case.

After 1968 the PLO and its associated groups adopted a policy of terrorism against civilians. During this period there were some hundreds of bombings, hijackings, and other attacks. Some examples:

– 22 November 1968 Bomb at Jerusalem market kills 14, including two Arabs.
– 6 March 1969 Bomb at Hebrew University injures 28 students.
– 13 February 1970 47 killed when Swissair plane blown up.
– 22 May 1970 Eight children killed when school bus shelled.
– 10 May 1972 Japanese “Red army” kill 27 Christian pilgrims at Lod airport.
– 5 September 1972 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Olympic Games in Munich.
– 29 October 1972 Lufthansa plane hijacked. Munich killers released by Germany.
– 11 April 1974 PFLP machine-guns 18 men, women and children in an apartment house near Lebanese border.
– 15 May 1974 PFLP invades a school at Ma’alot in Northern Israel, killing 20 children.

5. By 1969 the PLO had established a powerful presence in Jordan, carrying weapons and collecting its own taxes. On 6 September 1970, the PLO hijacked four international airliners, and three of them were blown up at a desert airstrip in Jordan. King Hussein then launched his forces against the PLO centres in the refugee camps.

Syrian tanks crossed the Jordanian border in support of the PLO, Israel mobilised its army in readiness and American warships appeared in the eastern Mediterranean. A ten-day war ensued in which the Syrian force was turned back by the Jordanians, and thousands of Palestinians were killed in the fighting. The PLO power in Jordan was effectively broken.

The events were described by the Palestinians as “Black September”, and this became the name adopted by the terrorist group which killed the Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972.

6. After 1970 the PLO moved its bases to South Lebanon, where it established a similar “State within a State” and carried out regular attacks on northern Israel. The Soviet Union supplied arms and trained personnel, and members of other international terrorist groups were trained.

7. In 1974, the PLO was recognised as the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’. Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly, and the PLO was granted UN observer status.

8. In 1982 Israel invaded South Lebanon. When the PLO retreated into West Beirut, Israeli troops followed. Eventually the PLO leadership withdrew from Lebanon, and established new headquarters in Tunisia. It appeared that the threat to Israel posed by the PLO was now finished.

9. In November 1988, Arafat held a press conference at which he publicly recognised “for the record” the right of all nations in region “including the State of Palestine and Israel” to live in peace. He also condemned all forms of terrorism including “state terrorism”, but not “resistance”.

10. The PLO was excluded from the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, at which Arab nations and Palestinian representatives met officially with Israeli representatives for the first time. However, secret negotiations took place between Israeli and PLO representatives at Oslo in Norway, and the terms of an agreement were formulated. Following a letter from Arafat to Rabin, in which he formally recognised Israel and renounced terrorism, the agreement, known as the Oslo Accords, was signed on 13 September 1993 at a dramatic ceremony in Washington, by Arafat and Israeli PM Yitzchak Rabin in the presence of US President Bill Clinton.

11. The Oslo Accords had the effect of establishing the PLO as the “Palestinian Authority”, with self-government in the Territories, and Arafat was installed as Chairman. (See The Peace Process for more detail of the Accords.)


The following extracts from the Palestinian National Covenant, are from the version published officially in English by the PLO in December 1969, and based on the text adopted in 1964, and revised in 1968.

In his letter of September 9, 1993 to Prime Minister Rabin, Yasser Arafat stated that those articles which deny Israel’s right to exist or are inconsistent with the PLO’s new commitments to Israel following their mutual recognition would no longer be valid. A formal resolution to that effect was made by the Palestinian National Council in 1998, and the Israeli government announced that it was satisfied with that resolution. However no amended version of the Covenant was adopted or published.

1. Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.

2. Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit…
[Note: These boundaries included the whole of the area presently comprising Israel, the Territories and Jordan.]

6. The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.
[Note: The date of the “beginning of the Zionist invasion” is not stated. It may be 1881, 1917 or1948.]

10. Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war. This requires its escalation, comprehensiveness, and the mobilization of all the Palestinian popular and educational efforts and their organization and involvement in the armed Palestinian revolution. It also requires the achieving of unity for the national struggle among the different groupings of the Palestinian people, and between the Palestinian people and the Arab masses, so as to secure the continuation of the revolution, its escalation, and victory.

13. Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine are two complementary objectives, the attainment of either of which facilitates the attainment of the other. Thus, Arab unity leads to the liberation of Palestine, the liberation of Palestine leads to Arab unity; and work toward the realization of one objective proceeds side by side with work toward the realization of the other.

19. The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time, because they were contrary to the will of the Palestinian people and to their natural right in their homeland, and inconsistent with the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, particularly the right to self-determination…

21. The Arab Palestinian people, expressing themselves by the armed Palestinian revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine and reject all proposals aiming at the liquidation of the Palestinian problem, or its internationalization.
English rendition as published in Basic Political Documents of the Armed Palestinian Resistance Movement; Leila S. Kadi (ed.), Palestine Research Centre, Beirut, December 1969, pp.137-141.