The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established in May 1964 in Jordan. The Palestine Liberation Organisation was a group that sort to combine various Arab organisations under one banner. The PLO’s primary objective was to gain (though from their point of view regain) the land handed by the United Nations to Israel. The PLO’s impact on recent Middle East history has been marked.
In its infancy, the PLO was not associated with violence. But from 1967 on, it became dominated by an organisation called Fatah – meaning liberation. This was the Syrian wing led by Yasir Arafat. It became more extreme as Israel became more successful militarily (1967 and 1973) and more intransigent about handing back land conquered from the Arabs (Sinai and the Golan Heights in particular). Even more extreme units developed within the PLO. Probably the two most associated with terrorism were ‘Black September’ and the ‘Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine’. These two groups believed that the only way Israel could be forced into returning land was to use violence – and bombing, hijacking and murder became their modus operandi.
The most infamous act of terrorism, among many, was the attack on the Israeli Olympic squad at the Munich Olympics in September1972. Though this attack was carried out by members of ‘Black September’, the main thrust of attention was on the umbrella movement it was in – the PLO. At the Munich Olympics, two Israeli wrestlers were killed outright by the terrorists while nine were held hostage. An attempted rescue bid by the German police failed and the nine athletes were killed along with two German police and five terrorists. The surviving terrorists were arrested and imprisoned. Just six weeks later they were flown to Libya as a German airliner had been hijacked by ‘Black September’ and the threat of killing all on board was enough to win the freedom of those who had been involved in the Munich murders. They returned as heroes. To many in the world, those who had carried out these killings were heartless terrorists. To many in the Arab world they were heroes ready to lay down their lives for the Palestinian people. Such an approach was to develop into Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel in the later years of the Twentieth Century and in the first few years of the Twenty First Century.
King Hussein of Jordan attempted to use his influence in the Arab world to moderate the deeds of the more extreme members of the PLO. This only led to a civil war in Jordan itself in September 1970 which resulted in the guerrilla units of the PLO withdrawing to Syria and the Lebanon. Here they felt as if they had more support from the people living there. Many in Lebanon saw them as freedom fighters who would help reclaim the Golan Heights. In Syria, the government did little to stop their activities.
In October 1974, at a meeting in Rabat of representatives from all Arab states, it was announced that the PLO would assume full responsibility for all Palestinians at a national and international level. On March 22nd 1976, PLO representatives were admitted into the United Nations to debate conditions in the Israeli-occupied west bank of the Jordan. Such a meeting gave the PLO the status it was desperate to achieve but there were those in the PLO who felt that Arafat was heading too much towards a political role and moving away from a role that would force Israel to hand over territory to the Palestinians – i.e. the use of violence as a means of persuasion. In fact, Arafat was prepared at this time to sanction both but hard-liners in the PLO could not accept his ideas. This led to an internal feud within the PLO in 1978 which ended with Arafat the recognised leader of the PLO but with a small but significant group of hard-liners out of his control.