An Arab organisation founded in 1964 to bring about an independent state in Palestine. It consists of several distinct groupings, the chief of which – al-Fatah – was led by Yasser Arafat, the president of the PLO from 1969.
The PLO’s original main aim was the destruction of the Israeli state, but over time it changed to establishing a Palestinian state alongside that of Israel, and in 1993 a peace agreement based on mutual recognition was reached with Israel.
Beirut, Lebanon, became PLO headquarters between 1970 and 1971 after its defeat in the Jordanian civil war. In 1974 the PLO became the first non-governmental delegation to be admitted to a session of the United Nations General Assembly.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 the PLO had to abandon its headquarters there – it moved to Tunis, Tunisia.
PLO members who remained in Lebanon after the expulsion were later drawn into the internal conflict. In 1987 the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) was followed by King Hussein’s renunciation of any Jordanian claim to the West Bank.
In 1988, the Palestine National Council voted to create a state of Palestine, but at the same time endorsed United Nations resolution 242, recognising Israel’s right to exist.
Discussions with the US government began for the first time when Arafat renounced terrorism as a policy. The Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir proposed Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1989.
Under the terms of the September 1993 Israeli/PLO accord, limited Palestinian self-rule was established in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
In 1994 Arafat returned to the newly liberated territories of Gaza and Jericho to head an interim civilian administration, the Palestinian National Authority, and in 1995 agreement was reached with Israel on its withdrawal from Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
The PLO signed a cooperation pact with Jordan in January 1995, and autonomy arrangements for Palestinian areas of the West Bank were also agreed in 1995, and, in an unexpected move, the militant fundamentalist group Hamas, which had maintained a campaign of violence within Israel in opposition to the 1993 accord, was invited to talks on self-rule.
However, throughout 1996 the accord was jeopardised by continued Israeli and Arab extremist violence.
In January 1996 Arafat was elected president of the 88-member Palestinian National Council (PNC) and, as such, effectively the president of the embryonic state of Palestine. Members of Arafat’s al-Fatah faction, some campaigning as independents, won an estimated 75% of seats.
The peace agreement was jeopardised by mounting tensions with Israel throughout 1996 and 1997. After a failure to reach an agreement during talks held in London in May 1998, negotiations were transferred to the USA where, in October, a consensus was reached.
The ”Wye agreement”, signed at Wye Plantation, Maryland, provided for a further 13% withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank.
The status of the Palestine Liberation Organization was upgraded in July 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, granting it some rights thus far enjoyed only by full member states.
Under the proposals, passed by a large majority, the PLO is able to take part in debates, co-sponsor resolutions, and raise points of order when Middle East affairs are being discussed. It surprised no-one that Israel protested against the move.
After the Israeli general election in May 1999, Arafat announced that an independent Palestine state would be declared by the end of the year. Later in the same month, Arafat met with King Abdullah of Jordan prior to the reopening of peace talks with Israel.
In 2002, the Arab League made an offer to recognise Israel in exchange for an Israeli retreat from all territories captured in the Six-Day War and statehood for the Palestinians governed by Arafat.
Shortly afterwards, an attack carried out by Hamas militants killed 29 Israeli civilians celebrating Passover. In response, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, a major military offensive into West Bank cities.
On 6 May, the Israeli government released a report, based in part on documents captured during the Israeli occupation of Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, which included copies of papers signed by Arafat authorizing funding for al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades’ activities
In late 2004, after effectively being confined within his Ramallah compound for over two years by the Israeli army, Yasser Arafat became ill, fell into a coma and died on 11 November 2004 at the age of 75.
While the exact cause of his death remains unknown and no autopsy was performed, his doctors spoke of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and cirrhosis.