A year after the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, the Palestinian fedayeen (commandos) became engaged in an ongoing process of reformulating policy and restructuring PLO institutions. The organization was alternating then between militant and moderate strategies, both of which were shaped by ideology, goals, past experience and external influences. The early strategy, which the PLO adopted following its radicalization by the fedayeen, was quite militant and was based on a type of guerrilla warfare, sometimes referred to as a "peoples? war." It was predicated on the assumption that the Israeli enemy had superior military power, but could be beaten by continual open warfare. It was also perceived as the only means of achieving the "total liberation" of Palestine and the return of all displaced Palestinians to their homes in the territories occupied by Israel. Military as opposed to political means, then, constituted the most important part of the PLO's early "all-or-nothing" policy, as stated in Article 10 of the 1964 PLO National Covenant, as well as in its 1968 Charter.
In 1974, however, a year after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, resolutions were taken during the 12th Palestine National Council (PNC) meeting to modify certain aspects of the "all-or-nothing policy." This came as the realization grew within the PLO of the need to utilize political means to achieve its goals without excluding military options. Diplomacy became an alternative to militancy, as long as it offered hope of success.

The Secular Democratic State

On a general level, PLO military strategy and political thought can be divided into three phases: the total liberation phase (1964-1968); the secular democratic state phase (1969-1974); and the two-state solution (1974-1990s). This last one suggested two alternatives or forms: the sulta wataniyeh (national authority) from 1974 to 1977, and the dawla wataniyeh (national state) from 1977 onwards. This article will
focus on the PLO evolution within the last two phases.
During its 1971 PNC meeting and at the behest of Fatah's leadership, the creation of a democratic state in Palestine became official policy. The PLO's adoption of the democratic state proposal was significant because the organization recognized the Jewish reality in Palestine and accepted the concept of sharing the country. The proposal called for the creation of a non-sectarian secular state in which all Jewish residents who had come to Palestine prior to 1947 would become citizens. By making this albeit- unrealistic concession, the PLO was able to dissociate itself from the popular policies of the traditional Palestinian and Pan-Arab elites of the early 1960s.
The absence of a more fundamental or drastic change in PLO strategy at this point was due to the organization's fear that such a change in its revolutionary image might lead to instability and division within its ranks, and might also create problems with the Palestinian refugees in the diaspora, especially those who came from inside Israel. Nonetheless, the proposal laid the foundation for the rise of a new realistic trend within the PLO's mainstream leadership that recognized the need for political accommodations and compromises in dealing with Israel. On the other hand, the proposal continued the PLO's old radical stance because, in effect, it rejected the fact that Israel existed as a Jewish entity.

Impact of the Occupied Territories on PLO Strategy

Up to the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, the dominant elite in the occupied territories included traditionalists and pro-Jordanian notables whose positions contradicted PLO policies and goals. They called, for instance, for a political settlement based on the concept of a Palestinian political entity or state coexisting with Israel. Later, such views were to gradually influence the PLO to pursue a program that would appeal to people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the wake of the October 1973 war, pro-PLO elements, as well as the Communists, became active in West Bank politics, presenting a serious challenge to the pro-Jordanian and traditional elite. Indeed, the creation of the Palestine National Front (PNF) in August 1973, within a well-defined pro-PLO platform, played a crucial role in increasing PLO influence in the occupied territories and served as a means by which Palestinians there could organize themselves against Israeli occupation. Specifically, its platform promised that its activities would be "inseparable" from those of the "Palestine National Movement [as] represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization." More importantly, the PNF helped reconcile the conflicting viewpoints of the PLO leadership outside the occupied territories with the non-traditional local elite in the West Bank and Gaza. Eventually, some PLO leaders, as well as many inhabitants of the occupied territories, recognized the need to "adjust" their policies and to adopt new ones which would lead to a political settlement with Israel.

Impact of Arab Policy on PLO Strategy

The 1973 October war also led to a new phase of political compromises which began shaping the agendas of both the PLO and the Arab states. Recognizing the centrality of the Palestinian cause in the Arab-Israeli conflict, most Arab leaders, including Jordan, wanted the Palestinians, represented by the PLO, to set aside their differences and to "march" with them in the pursuit of a diplomatic settlement that would erase Israel's record of aggression in previous wars.
The PLO had, of course, to redefine its strategy and tactics to meet regional and other international changes. It also realized the need to formulate policies to deal with Henry Kissinger's diplomatic activities and the anticipated Geneva Convention of December 1973. It will be remembered that Kissinger had proposed a bilateral step-by-step plan that presented the PLO leadership with the dilemma of having to choose between maintaining its commitment to its traditional revolutionary policy, or working together with the Arab states in order not to be "shut out" of a settlement that would ignore Palestinian claims.
As a result, the PLO grew "dangerously dependent" on the Arab states, particularly during the Arab feeling of euphoria after the 1973 war. In 1974, the PLO made its first gesture toward a two-state solution at its 12th PNC meeting in Cairo. Its new program called for the creation of a sulta wataniyeh (national authority) in any part of Palestine to be liberated by armed struggle. It was the direct result of both the 1973 war and the 1974 Rabat Arab Summit Conference which recognized the PLO as "the sole and only representative" of the Palestinian people, in exchange for which the PLO accepted the moderating influence of the Arab states.

The Sulta Wataniyeh

By introducing, in 1974, the concept of sulta wataniyeh as an interim solution, the PLO indirectly accepted diplomacy as a means for achieving its goals. Its ten-point program viewed the sulta wataniyeh as the new objective by which the organization could create a "people's national, independent and fighting sovereignty on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated from Israel's control." The proposal's importance lies in the implicit relinquishment by the PLO of its previous goal of creating a democratic state on the whole of Palestine.
The revolutionaries, led by the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), decided to establish a Rejectionist Front and to continue the policy of militancy and armed struggle as the only method of dealing with Israel. While Fatah aligned itself more closely with the moderate Arab states, the opposition aligned itself with the more radical ones. Undeterred by the Rejectionists, Fatah and its allies in the PLO accepted the principle of participating in the Geneva Conference, if invited as an independent party.
To enhance its regional and international prestige, the PLO sent out signals expressing readiness to accept compromise as a means of achieving a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. With the adoption of this moderate stance, the PLO was transforming itself into a new [political] force in the Middle East, that could not be ignored. It had succeeded to consolidate its position with the Arab states, especially after the Rabat Conference; to improve its image internationally, especially after Yasser Arafat's speech at the United Nations General Assembly in November 1974;
and to improve its relations with the Palestinians, both in the diaspora and in the occupied territories. In the longer term, however, the PLO became caught between a struggle for "a liberationist strategy," on the one hand, and "a territorial search for statehood," on the other. The latter forced the PLO to shift its attention from the diaspora to the occupied territories.

The 13th PNC and Its Aftermath

The change in policy introduced by the PLO after the 12th PNC session of 1974 was pursued and accelerated in subsequent PNC meetings. Unlike the 12th PNC, which called vaguely for an "independent and fighting national authority on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated," the 13th PNC called more clearly and explicitly for the creation of a dawla wataniyeh (a national state) "on soil of the [Palestinian] homeland." The abandonment of the idea of "national authority" in favor of a "national state" in 1977 underscored the organization?s willingness to accept a two-state solution. The PLO's main focus became centered on securing the creation of an
independent Palestinian state "in any part of Palestine," which was understood to mean the West Bank and Gaza.
Again, for tactical reasons, the 1977 proposal was considered to be only an intermediate solution to the conflict. Obviously, the PLO leadership was still concerned about the problem of unity and its desire to continue supporting the Palestinians, both in the diaspora and the occupied territories. But it was understood the PLO would accept the two-state solution and would be willing to participate in the Geneva Conference, on condition it be accepted on an equal footing with Israel.
The victory of Menachem Begin and his Likud coalition in the Israeli elections of 1977 was a setback, for, as long as the Likud was in power in Israel, the Palestinian issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict remained on hold. The PLO was either ignored or was actively opposed by Israel and its allies, especially the United States, and Israeli strategy, at the time, was to break up the Arab alliance against it.

Pragmatism in the 1980s and 1990s

The Likud's official policy of repression and colonization of the occupied territories, the 1975 Lebanese civil war, the 1979 Camp David Accords and the subsequent expulsion of the PLO from Beirut in 1982 all had a profound impact on PLO strategy and future planning. These developments deprived the PLO of its military option in dealing with Israel, shifted its interest to diplomacy, and refocused its attention on the occupied territories rather than on the whole of Palestine. Following its expulsion from Beirut, the PLO was forced to seek defensive policies that would preserve its political status as representative and spokesman of the Palestinian people.
Furthermore, the PLO leadership had something else to worry about during this period. In the 1980s, for instance, several peace plans were proposed, calling for the formulation of new policies on the part of the PLO. Among these were the 1980 Brezhnev peace plan, the 1981 Fahad plan, the 1982 Fez plan, and the 1982 Ronald Reagan peace plan. The PLO particularly favored the Fez plan. This was an advanced version of the Saudi one, presented at the 16th PNC meeting in 1983 which, in short, sought the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO leadership was considering options that would give it a role in future peace negotiations with Israel. Naturally, the opposition of both the Likud government in Israel and that of the United States to PLO involvement in any future negotiations made the search for a political solution untimely.
However, in the late 1980s, while the PLO was trying to survive politically, the unfolding of events in the occupied territories was to rescue it from a growing paralysis and a desperate situation. It was the Intifada that would ultimately succeed in changing the political picture of the Palestinian conflict with Israel and would make other changes possible. For instance, in July 1988, Jordan made the decision to formally relinquish its claim to the West Bank. This decision strengthened the PLO?s relationship with its people there and made it the uncontested representative of the Palestinians. This new legitimacy enabled the PLO to act independently and ultimately influence Israel?s attitude towards it. Moreover, the Intifada increased
the popular appeal of the Islamic fundamentalists in the occupied territories. By contrast, the PLO appeared to Israeli and Western eyes as more moderate, certainly less extreme.
In response to these new developments, in November 1988, the PLO presented its peace strategy and declared the establishment of the independent State of Palestine. It accepted UN resolutions 181, 242 and 338 as the bases for negotiating a political settlement with Israel. On December 13, 1988, Arafat renounced terrorism and accepted the right of Israel to exist alongside Palestine. In so doing, the PLO totally renounced its previous goals and strategies and was, therefore, considered a candidate in peace negotiations.
Other changes on the international and regional scenes helped accelerate the process of peace in the region. Most important was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War which forced many in the Arab world to conclude that they no longer had a patron to support their opposition to Israel. Concomitantly, US influence in the region was enhanced, as it felt comfortable pressing for peace in the Middle East, especially following the Gulf War against Iraq.
In October 1991, a Middle East peace conference was convened in Madrid, Spain, where issues pertaining to the status of the PLO were discussed. Subsequent developments revealed a general awareness of the necessity of PLO participation in future negotiations. Almost two years later, on September 13, 1993, an agreement between the PLO and Israel was signed. Undoubtedly, the coming to power of Israel's Labor party in 1992 was an important development making such an agreement possible. However, with the coming to power in June 1996 of the right-wing Netanyahu government, the possibility of a lasting peace has become much more elusive. The PLO, for its part, is still committed to peace and coexistence with Israel within the context of a negotiated settlement that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.


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