The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established in 1964. Over the years, it grew to embody the Palestinian national liberation movement and become the sole and legitimate representative of Palestinians everywhere.
The PLO’s power was eclipsed by the creation of the Palestinian National Authority – more commonly referred to as the Palestinian Authority (PA) – in 1993, following the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government (the Oslo Accords) signed between the PLO and the government of Israel. The PA was established as an interim administrative organisation that nominally governs parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and whose role is restricted according to the PLO’s agreements with Israel. In theory, the PA is subordinate to and derives its legitimacy from the PLO.
Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, the PLO formed the now defunct ‘Council of the Palestinian National Authority’ and appointed Yasser Arafat as the chairman of the Council. This arrangement, which was the first step in the creation of the PA, has formed the institutional basis of Palestinian politics to this day, whereby the head of the largest Palestinian faction, Fatah, operates as chairman of the PLO and as president of the PA. Since Arafat’s death in 2004, these three positions have remained in the hands of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.
In 2006, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, won elections for the PA’s Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). In response to his rivals’ victory, Abbas reactivated the PLO’s status and institutions to regain power and assert legitimacy, including by launching a diplomatic campaign to make Palestine a non-member state at the United Nations. More recently, the PLO has been the main institution responding to the US declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its cutting of aid to the Palestinians.
These latest activities within the PLO have so far precluded any serious attempt to fully revive and reform the crumbling institution, despite many Palestinian voices calling for such efforts. The PLO remains very weak and the PA, while enjoying the appearance of a developing state, lacks sovereignty and is increasingly seen by Palestinians as serving the interests of the Israeli occupation rather than the aspirations of the Palestinian people.