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   Vol. 68/No. 44           November 30, 2004  
The evolution of the Palestine Liberation Organization
The crisis of leadership in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is evident in the events surrounding the death of Palestinian Authority president Yasir Arafat. This crisis is rooted in the evolution of the PLO from a revolutionary nationalist movement to a force whose leadership has become increasingly bourgeoisified.

The PLO arose from the resistance to the establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian territory in 1947. Backed by Washington, the Israeli government drove hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into exile and by 1948 had taken control of four-fifths of what had been Palestine.

In 1964 the PLO was established in Egypt as an umbrella organization of Palestinian nationalist groups. Its leader, Ahmed Shukairy, favored subordinating the PLO leadership to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s bourgeois nationalist government in Egypt.

As Israeli aggression continued unchecked, many Palestinian militants were attracted to Fatah, an armed group led by Arafat that was part of the PLO. Instead of relying on the Arab regimes, Fatah took up arms against the Israeli government. In 1969, Arafat became chairman of the PLO.

The PLO at the time advanced a revolutionary program and course for national liberation and the replacement of the state of Israel with a democratic, secular Palestine.

“Only the people of Palestine—its Jews, its Christians, its Muslims—in a country that combines them all is permanent,” Fatah proclaimed in a 1970 document titled Towards a Democratic State in Palestine. In a democratic Palestine, “all the Jews, Muslims, and Christians living in Palestine or forcibly exiled from it will have the right to Palestinian citizenship,” it said. “It is the belief of the revolution that the majority of the present Israeli Jews will change their attitudes and will subscribe to the new Palestine, especially after the oligarchic state machinery, economy, and military establishment are destroyed.”

The revolutionary dynamic of the PLO threatened the Israeli rulers and the Arab regimes alike. Driven out of Jordan in 1970 by King Hussein, the PLO established its base in Lebanon. When the Israeli regime launched a war against Lebanon in 1982, some 9,000 PLO fighters were forced to withdraw from that country into exile in a number of Arab countries—one that would last for more than a decade. In the subsequent years of dispersion the gap grew between the PLO apparatus in exile, which in some countries had increasingly grown into a willing tool of the host government, and the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and refugee camps in the region. The PLO’s political course became more and more removed from that of the front-line combatants inside “Greater Israel.”

In 1987 a wave of struggles broke out in the occupied territories, led by a new, younger generation of fighters. This intifada, or uprising, drew fresh forces into the struggle, but did not succeed in forging a new leadership strong enough to provide a revolutionary alternative to the PLO apparatus.

The first Gulf war saw a further manifestation of the PLO’s political decline. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein cynically tried to link withdrawal of his troops from Kuwait to the Palestinians’ demand for national self-determination. The PLO leadership endorsed this linkage, revealing a deepening course of bourgeoisification—turning its eyes away from independent mass struggle by workers and farmers and toward accommodation with bourgeois Arab regimes.

The Oslo accords, signed in 1993, furthered this process. The agreement between Tel Aviv and the PLO promised limited Palestinian self-administration in some areas of the West Bank and Gaza, with Israel retaining overall sovereignty. But in reality its goal was to bring the Palestinian movement more closely under the control of Washington, and by extension Israel, and to use it to try to crack down on militant Palestinian resistance.

In the decade since the Oslo accords, the Israeli rulers have increased the settler population in Palestinian areas by more than 70 percent. They have built a wall inside the West Bank, cutting the Palestinian population off from Israeli population centers and extending the territorial claims of the Zionist state.

In 1998 Arafat and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed another agreement. In it, Tel Aviv promised to carry out long delayed troop withdrawals from Palestinian areas in return for the Palestinian leadership reaffirming its vote to remove clauses from the PLO charter calling for the overthrow of the Israeli state and the establishment of a democratic, secular Palestine.

With the outbreak of a second intifada in late 2000, armed groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which call for the replacement of Israel with an Islamic state, stepped into the leadership vacuum. They gained recruits and led the bombing campaign that increasingly marked the second intifada, which peaked in a wave of suicide bombings in 2002 aimed primarily at civilian targets inside Israel. These reactionary, bourgeois forces offered a course counter to the interests of Palestinian toilers, ultimately isolating themselves.

Over the past two years, with deadly precision, the Israeli military has killed or captured much of the leadership and many of the cadres of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

At the same time, a growing section of the leadership of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority has focused on seeking to cut a deal with Tel Aviv and Washington, and in the process, increasing their collaboration with the CIA and other imperialist institutions.

Despite the blows Tel Aviv and Washington have dealt to the fight for Palestinian national rights, however, they have been unable to resolve the conflict. Within the framework of imperialism, there is no solution to the Palestinian question. The Palestinian struggle for land and national liberation remains the axis of the class struggle in Israel and throughout those areas that historically constituted Palestine.
Related articles:
Washington uses death of Yasir Arafat to press imperialist interests in the Mideast region  
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