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The following notes have been compiled (unless otherwise indicated) by Dr Glen Rangwala of Trinity College, Cambridge, and also appear on his own website. Any corrections and additions should be sent to
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)

(Munazzimat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniyya)


The PLO has a three-part structure: 

i) PNC as parliament, wh elects leader and makes policy decisions; created in its 1964 formative stage, now with 669 members, but until recently had 484 members from all PLO factions as well as independents, with seats left vacant for reps of OTs. Past membership nos: PNC4 = 100 (57 from guerrilla groups); PNC6 = 112; PNC9 = 155; PNC12 = 187; PNC13 = 290; PNC14 (94 from guerrilla groups) = 315. Current President is Salim Za‘nun (previously: ‘Abd al-Muhsin Qattan from Jul 68; Yahya Hammuda from Sept 69, Khalid al-Fahum from Jul 71-84, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Sa’ih from Nov 84-1993); Vic-Pres is Taysir Quba‘a; Secretary is Muhammad Sbayh; 2nd Secretary is Ilya Khuri. Meets infrequently, though is mandated by its fundamental law to meet every 2 years. Resolutions passed by a simple majority, but 2/3rds of members must attend for quorate. 

ii) Palestine Central Council (in Apr99, had 124 members): makes policy decisions when PNC not in session, acting as a link between PNC and PLO-EC: formed in Jun70, as an ad hoc body to coordinate fida’i groups in Jordan, ceasing work after Jul71; but reestablished in 1/73 (under the chairmanship of Khalid al-Fahum); elected by PNC on PLO-EC selection, and chaired by PNC president. Membership has risen from 42 (1976), 55 (3/77), 72 (11/84), 107 (early90s), 95 (mid-90s). Current membership is here

iii) PLO Executive Committee acts as a cabinet, implementing policy (c.18 members), selected from PNC and choosing its own chairman. Membership from 1969 to 1988 is listed here

iv) Palestine Liberation Army, initially with 3 battalions: ‘Ayn Jalut in Egypt, Qadisiyya in Iraq, tho in Jordan after 1967, Hattin in Syria; Chiefs of Staff include ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Yahya (1970-2), Tariq al-Khadra (up to 1984). 

PLO also contains the Palestine National Fund; Palestinian Armed Struggle Command (a military-police organisation: established 2/4/69 as a step t/w fida’i unification, and coordinating claims to action; was a civil police force in Lebanon in 70s-early 80s, and intervened in confrontations between opposing Palestinian groups); Palestinian Red Crescent Soc (established Jord 65, part of PLO from 1969); SAMED, the Palestine Martyrs Works Society (established 1970 in Jordan to provide vocational training to martyrs’ children; reorganised in Lebanon in 1971; after 1975, services extended to all Palestinians); Department of Info and Culture, wh inc the Research Centre (produced until 1993 the academic journal Shu’un Filastiniyya); the Department of Mass Organizations, running the unions (through the General Union of Palestinian Women, GUPW; General Union of Palestinian Workers, GUPWo; General Union of Palestinian Students, GUPS); Education Department; Information Bureau (wh produces newspaper Filastin al-Thawra, biwkly English and French journal Palestine, and has news agency WAFA, established 1/6/70, see SWB); Political Department, wh represents Palestinians internationally; and Institution for Social Affairs and Welfare for the Families of Martyrs and Prisoners (established 1965). 
See esp: Sayigh, 1997; Rubenberg 1983


(Fatah literally means "conquest" but is a reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini, Palestinian National Liberation Movement)


Origins in Ikhwan groups (a tag wh stuck until ‘68) drawn from refugees in Gaza, wh (reluctantly) provided military training to Palestinian youth. Ikhwan military bodies established, eg Revenge Youth (w Khalaf) and Battalion of Right (w Wazir); launched small sabotage attacks on Israel from late 54 and pulled away from disapproving Ikhwan, also refusing to get involved in Ikhwan-Egypt conflict (wh resulted in Wazir's expulsion from Egypt » moved onto Saudi, then Kuwait). ‘Arafat at this stage was working through Palestinian Students Union in Cairo; formed alliance with youth leaders (esp Khalaf) and Palestinian activists in Syria (esp ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Karim and ‘Abdullah al-Dannan): in 1957, after university, 6 of the activists formed a clandestine organisation in Kuwait, taking name Fatah in ‘58 (Sayigh, 84). Organisational structures established at a Kuwait meeting on 10.10.59. 

Prominent founders inc ‘Arafat, Salah Khalaf, Khalil al-Wazir, Md Yusif al-Najjar, Kamal ‘Udwan. Joined in ‘59 by Khalid al-Hasan, a civil servant who'd been in Kuwait since 1952; and Tawfiq al-Huri, wh gave his magazine Nida’ al-Hayat-Filastinuna (The Call of Life - Our Palestine) to use as a mouthpiece: largely written by Wazir, but also ‘Arafat. Main centres were Kuwait (Arafat, Wazir, later Qaddumi) and Qatar (Najjar, ‘Udwan, ‘Abd al-Fattah Hammud). 

Main platform was the liberation of all of Palestine for Arab s-ty, wh cd be achieved only through relentless armed struggle; but that Arab governments were not to be trusted (had prevented victory in 1948 war since they were concerned only with their own interests; also shown in treatment of refugees) > must remain independent of all Arab governments, inc Nasirism; also stress upon own distinctiveness as a people, ‘Palestinianness’. Also disapproved of ideological debates and party politics, wh they viewed as a distraction from the sole goal of liberating Palestine > portrayed itself as a movement rather than an organisation [hence won support from all sectors of soc, and, ironically, later from Arab governments]. Violence seen as breaking through the resignation of the refugees > national unity through armed struggle (drawn from Fanon). Filastinuna, appearing approx. 6-wkly from 1959 until Nov 64, served to publicise group, and won recruits from Ikhwan (eg Ahmad Quray; Muhammad Ghnaym, wh opposed Ikhwan loyalty to Hashimite throne), Ba'ths, esp after end of UAR (esp Faruq al-Qaddumi; a West Bank resident), and student groups (esp Mahmud ‘Abbas, then working in Qatari civil service). Acted to unify various groups formed by Palestinian refugees in Kuwait, Saudi, Qatar. Acted in Eu through Hani al-Hasan (b.1937, Haifa) wh was studying in W.Germany. 

In 1963, extensively reorganised, with a Central Committee formed. By 1962-4, was winning support from Arab States, esp Syria, wh sought a counterfoil to Egyptian designs and means to discredit Nasir and the PLO > Damascus became ‘Arafat’s base; and Algeria (through ‘Arafat’s elder brother, Jamal ‘Abd al-Ra’uf) > Palestine Office created by Fatah in Algiers, and through these connections met Vietnamese, Chinese and Portuguese African leaders, and Che Guevara. These States pushed for commencement of armed attacks on Israel; also supported by ‘Arafat and Wazir, to opposition of ‘Abd al-Karim and Dannan; former view won out, esp with formation of PLA (Sept 64) and view that a military confrontation between PLO and Israel cd be precipitated by Fatah actions, thus bringing about a popular struggle; strove for al-tawrit al-wa’i (‘conscious entanglement’) of the masses in a liberation war (cf conventional warfare of Arab armies invading Israel: Fatah indicated at times that this wd not be able to liberate Palestine, in part due to Israel’s NWs, and its promotion wd prevent mass mobilisation): believed that mass mobilisation wd be triggered by engaging in highly visible armed attacks, wh wd also propel Fatah to the leadership of PLO institutions (Cuban model acknowledged: Sayigh, 1993, pp.120-1) >> attacks of 31 Dec 64 et seq. However, rifts started emerging in Fatah in ‘65/6, with the Higher Central Committee in Kuwait (‘Abd al-Karim, Dannan) opposing Field Command in Damascus (Wazir, ‘Arafat): former (prob. also with Syrian pressure) imposed merger with Ba'thist Revnary Front for the Liberation of Palestine, under Yusif al-‘Urabi, and Palestinian Liberation Front, under Ahmad Jibril, in order both to control ‘Arafat and to bring in professional military expertise; tensions led to attempted putsch of Mar-May 66; but resolution left Fatah with strengthened links with Syrian forces (esp Asad), the removal of ‘Abd al-Karim and Dannan from HCC, and domination of Fatah by commando groups in Syria > crackdown, with mass imprisonment, esp in Jordan and Lebanon. 

With ‘67 war, ‘Arafat and Wazir urged the immediate relaunching of the struggle from within the OTs, despite opposition of Khalid al-Hasan and Khalaf (and Syrian government); ‘Arafat formally became field commander and set up clandestine HQ in Nablus from Aug67. Fatah actions in late’67 killed approx 97 IDF, but mass imprisonment of West Bank supporters > by ‘68 sought a base outside OTs, and chose Jordan. Gained unofficial support from many Jordanian soldiers, but tensions with government, esp intelligence chief Md Rasul al-Kaylani. Also sought leadership within PLO: formed a Permanent Bureau for Guerrilla Actions in Cairo, Jan’68, with 7 minor guerrilla groups, so as to form a bloc within PLO; PFLP, with similar ambitions, boycotted. However, reversed suspicion with battle of Karama, bringing extensive publicity and recruits to Fatah; ‘Arafat moved named as leader and spokesperson of Fatah (14/15[?]Apr68, poss on Khalaf’s unilateral initiative); support from King Faysal of Saudi (financially), Husayn of Jordan (rhetorically), SU (after ‘Arafat’s visit to Moscow in Feb70), Nasir who met the Fatah leadership in 1968, following Karameh (» increased arms deliveries, military training and intelligence facilities; saw as a complement to diplomacy; Haykal, Road 64: the ‘irresponsible arm’ of the Arab governments {Haykal had been holding meetings with Fatah on behalf of the Egyptian government from mid67, viewed by Fatah as a close ally}), China (after ‘Arafat and Khalaf visited in Feb70) and Algeria (both major weapons suppliers). By late’68, tho, Israel had forced Fatah out of the Jordan valley, and guerrilla movement into Jordan’s cities brought increased tensions and armed conflicts (esp Nov’68). Karameh also allowed Fatah to take over PLO, taking many seats in PNC from May68, and 33/105 seats in Feb69 as the largest single bloc > ‘Arafat elected chairman of PLO, with 4/11 seats on Executive Committee. 

Fatah’s statist ambitions led it to create the organisational norms for its mass party in tradnal guise, and adopt populist pol rhetoric; but tensions due to rapid expansion, with founding elite largely drawn from Islamist parties (> paternalistic style of leadership, using Isl notion of consensus), whilst new recruits came up through Jordanian Ba'thist and communist parties. Statist ambitions also led it to set up soc welfare provisions, eg Palestinian Red Crescent Soc and schooling programme; as well as expansion of autonomous intelligence apparatus, the Rasd (briefly under Qaddumi, but under Khalaf from ‘68 > became a rival power base to ‘Arafat). At 1st encouraged fragmentation of Palestinian groups to ensure its own dominance; but rivalry and sense that Arab States were created groups to further their own causes led to calls to impose a unified pol front on Palestinian groups > rejected as impossible by ‘Arafat (rejecting internal violence on the basis on wh it had done in 1936-9), instead offered posts within PLO to other groups (inc unions and other mass orgs) on a fixed quota whilst expanding PNC so that more seats cd be allocated (corporatist approach, inv cooption).

Sense of siege in Fatah after Black September, with Syrian pressure, successful Israeli purges in Gaza, Israel and Jordan attempted to cultivate an alternative leadership in OTs, Lebanese crackdown on all guerrilla activity > contradictory tendencies within Fatah. On the one hand, saw ‘adventurism’ of PFLP as responsible for Black Sept > Sept71 conference condemned ‘extremism’ within PF for their problems, and sought to consolidate movement: incorporated ‘Isam Sartawi's Active Organisation for the Liberation of Palestine (AOLP) and Ahmad Za‘rur’s Org of Arab Palestine at Jul71PNC. But also strove for revenge > breakaway faction from the Rasd, wh was extensively criticised for its role in Jordan, became the ‘Black Sept Org’ (Khalaf’s role unclear, but supported and promoted its activities); much sympathy in Fatah for their activities, inc PFLP / Red Army strikes, and various Fatah members took BSO name in the Sept72 Munich Olympic attack (unclear whether ‘Arafat authorised; but he did not condemn). With international condemnation, loss of public support and Israeli reprisals (esp death of Najjar and ‘Udwan in Apr73 raid), condemned further hijackings and airport attacks by Sabri al-Banna and Haddad’s PFLP faction in 1973, and ‘Arafat ordered the assassination of al-Banna’s sponsor, Md ‘Abd al-Ghafur (12Sept74). Oct72 Fatah congress of 300 delegates elected the leadership; also new policy formulated, viewing guerrilla warfare as one of the means (ie not the only) of struggle. 

Increasing leftward shift within Fatah after 1973 war, with ‘the Soviet Group’ (Nimr Salih, Fatah-CC member; Majid Abu-Sharar, director of news department; Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahman, ed-in-chief of Filastin al-Thawra) strong; tho opposed by various other leftist factions, eg ‘Vietnamese line’ under Hanna Mikha’il and ‘Maoist tendency’ under Munir Shafiq, as Soviet group was moving t/w supporting SCR242 and wh gained considerable popularity among Fatah rank-and-file, wh saw interests of 1948 refugees as vital >> Internal factionalism, and the formation of the rejectionist front and Abu Nidal group: came into open conflict in S.Lebanon in Apr 77 wh leftist group under Abu Daud (Md Daud Awda) tried to break ceasefire in S.Lebanon > open clashes with Fatah mainstream forces > ‘Arafat cd, and sought to, gain personal control > increasing accusations of autocracy did not convene a general Fatah conference after Sept71 until pressure led to May80 conference. General comments: Fatah’s success has been due to its lack of emphasis on ideology (> support from all sectors of soc), and its principle of non-interference in affairs of other Arab States (> support from all), tho failed to uphold in Jordan, Lebanon and after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait; generally opposed violent attacks outside the ME, esp from 1974. Main splits in Fatah in 1983 and Nov1993, wh half of Fatah-RC, inc Qaddumi (as Secretary-General), boycotted meeting to protest at Oslo.

Tripartite organisational structure

i) General conference, the ruling body, wh is meant to meet every 5 years, but has not met since its fifth session on 8 Aug 89: made up of members of regional congresses, military forces, mass orgs and Fatah-RC. At last meeting, had 1200 members. Earlier meetings: 4th General Conference (Damasus, 31 May 80); 

ii) the Fatah Revolutionary Council (now with 120 members), deciding policy wh GC is not in session; 

iii) Central Committee (al-lajna al-markaziyya), wh acts according to the principle of collective leadership. Members are largely elected by secret ballot from the GC, but RC can appoint 3 other members by a two-thirds majority, and others from the OTs. Membership from 1966 to the present is recorded here.


Last revised on 18 June, 2009