The Palestinian Political Scene

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The Palestinian Political Scene

Palestinian Liberation Organization

In 1964, the PLO was formed to support the Palestinian people at the Cairo Summit. The purpose of the group was to get back the land that was once considered Palestine and to defend the Palestinian Arab people. The PLO was in favor of Pan-Arabism in that they believed and stood for the idea that all Arabs should live in one state. During this time, the Palestinian people did not have independence in Jordan or Egypt but had the support of the two countries for a Palestinian state. The PLO formed an Executive Committee and its first leader (of 1964) was Ahmad Shukeiri.

After the Six Day War, many of the PLO’s supporting countries were very weak and unable to be of much help to the cause. This allowed Yasser Arafat, the leader of Fatah, to take control of the PLO. He eventually became the chairman of PLO in 1969 at the Palestinian National Congress. From this point to 1970, the PLO fought the War of Attrition against Israel. The War of Attrition was started by Egypt in order to gain back the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel controlled since 1967. The PLO supported Egypt and fought against Israel to gain this piece of land. The War of Attrition ended with a ceasefire and the borders of Israel did not change. At this time, the PLO was in Jordan and Israel began attacking the camps located in Jordan. Then, Black September occurred. During September of 1970, the PLFP made several attempts to assassinate King Hussein of Jordan and then hijacked multiple planes, which they landed in Jordan. This led to a battle between Jordan and the Palestinians, resulting in thousands of deaths. Due to the trouble that this caused the country, Jordan forced the PLO to leave. The PLO resettled in Lebanon.

Jordan and the Palestinians have had a long history and a rocky relationship. Jordan believes that the Palestinians who were once in Jordan and who are currently in Jordan should accept their citizenship as Jordanians and forget about what happened decades ago. However, the Palestinians will not accept this solution.

The PLO’s first attempt at peace with Israel was through the Ten Point Program in 1974. This program entailed a Palestinian territory that would allow the Palestinians to have equal rights to the Israeli people. It was at this point that the PFLP was formed, which was a more radical party at the time. From 1974 forward, Israel has viewed the Ten Point Program as risky and dangerous because they believe it is simply a ploy to get better position from which to attack Israel. Upon entering Lebanon in 1970, the Palestinians started an uproar. Against Lebanon’s will, Egypt and the PLO decided that Lebanon would be the new home for the Palestinians. The Palestinians isolated themselves and made their own rules. Members of he PLO acted radically, raping and killing Lebanon’s civilians. In 1975, a group of Palestinians fired at people walking out of Church and killed three civilians. This was the breaking point for Lebanon. A civil war broke out in 1975 and Lebanon retaliated by murdering 30 Palestinians on a bus. The PLO made alliances with Syria along with some Lebanese, and fought back. Syria started out siding with the PLO, but jumped back and forth between sides. Eventually, Israel joined in the battle, siding with the Christian Lebanese. This war lasted 15 years and resulted in over 150,000 deaths. It also resulted in the creation of Hezbollah, and allowed Syria to have control over Lebanon’s military and security.

In 1982, the PLO moved to Tunisia because it had been forced out of Lebanon during the civil war. It was around this time that the PLO began to weaken, losing support and connections with neighboring Arab states as well as backing at home given their distance from the front lines. In 1987, the First Intifada occurred. The First Intifada was a rebellion of Palestinians against Israel in Palestinian territories, and was the first manifestation of a "new guard" on the Palestinian scene, younger Palestinians more willing to use extreme measures. The first Intifada led to the declaration for a State of Palestine, which was eventually supported by Arafat. The PLO made the decision to recognize Israel’s existence, only within the pre-1967 borders, so long as the Palestinians could have a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. This was a great start to negotiations between the PLO and the United States as the PLO became more focused on a solution to the conflict. They became more focused because the PLO decided that the best way to achieve any sort of Palestinian state was to start by acknowledging Israel’s right to exist.

In 1993, the PLO negotiated the Oslo Accords with Israel. This was when the Palestinian people finally formed their own government, the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Oslo Accords required Israel to remove part of its military from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, while the Palestinians were given power over the territory through the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat became the leader of the Palestinian Authority and was later elected as President in 1996. To clarify the relationship between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, they are not one in the same but the PLO has a significant amount of power and control within the PA.

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a Marxist political organization that was founded in 1967. This group tends to be more radical than most of the members of the PLO, including Fatah. The PFLP originated from the Arab Nationalist Movement, which was founded in 1953. The PFLP formed in 1967 from three groups: Youth for Revenge, Heroes of the Return and the Palestine Liberation Front. The leader of the merging of these groups was George Habash, the founder of the Arab Nationalist Movement.

In 1968, the PFLP resided in Syria where the country provided the organization with financial aid. Although the group was Marxist-Leninist, it still supported the idea of Pan-Arabism. This was a common ground between the PFLP and PLO. Over the course of the years to follow, many different groups broke off of the PFLP to form their own groups such as the DFLP and PFLP-GC. During 1968 the PFLP joined the PLO, but in 1974 left the group’s executive committee. However, the PFLP did not leave the PLO altogether. The reason for PFLP’s withdrawal was because of the PLO’s willingness to acknowledge Israel’s existence and consider a two-state solution. This withdrawal was short-lived as the PFLP became a part of the executive committee again in 1981.

Since the Oslo Accords, the PFLP has not had a significant position in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Due to the radical behavior and actions by this group, the United States has deemed them as terrorists and will not negotiate with this group. This has not affected the control that PFLP has in the PLO, because there have not been any elections within the past few years. Many of the leaders of this group have been exiled and hence, the organization must find young Palestinians to take their place and help the group forward. Some of the alliances of the PFLP are left wing parties such as the Palestinian People’s Party and the Popular Resistance Committees.

The PFLP has most of its power in Ramallah, which is located near Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank. In the elections of 2006, the PFLP won about four percent of the vote. The PFLP strongly advocates for recreating what used to be considered Palestine. The members of the party, George Habash in particular, believed that there should be one state in which Jews were considered the minority. This is the opposite of what exists today. The PFLP stands firm about not negotiating a two-state solution. Today, the members of the PFLP are typically well-educated, and are politically liberal or socialist. They tend to come from the middle class and are typically of higher socio-economic status than the members of Hamas.


Hamas was founded in 1987 by Ahmed Yassin as a spinoff of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which stands for the idea that Islam is a way of life. The group formed with the common goal of attaining a Palestinian state in Israel, which they believe is Palestinian land. They have a policy that combines attacking Israel while simultaneously creating welfare programs for the Palestinians located in the Gaza and West Bank. These social welfare programs, which fund schools and health care facilities, are not provided by any other group or government, including the Palestinian Authority and Israel. However, Hamas does not think that peaceful solutions will work and they go against the principles of Hamas that have advocated an uncompromising position of no "peace process" with Israel. The group has supported the use of suicide bombings, and views those who partake in them as heroic martyrs.

Hamas created its military in 1992 and from this time into the 2000's it planned and executed multiple suicide bombings against civilians in Israel. It was not until 2004 that Hamas even considered negotiating peacefully. Yassin declared that if a Palestinian state was created he would stop the suicide bombings and attacks. This state was to consist of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. With this negotiation was a 10 year truce for peace. Yassin was killed in March of 2004 by an air strike planned by the Israelis. Towards the end of 2004, the 10 year truce was actually put in place.

In the Presidential election of 2005, Hamas boycotted and refused to participate. In this election, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President. Even though Hamas did not take part in the Presidential election, it did partake in the Legislative elections of 2006. Hamas ended up gaining a majority of the seats and beat out Fatah and won 74 seats. From this win, Hamas has started to give up on the idea of getting rid of Israel. They are starting to realize that the goal of removing Israel from the Middle East is nearly impossible. Although Hamas still demands that the Palestinians have a state with Jerusalem as the capital.

Hamas does not support the Road Map plan. The Road Map is a plan for peace that was created by the Quartet that includes an independent Palestinian state that resides in peace with Israel. Hamas believes that it is Israel that is causing all of the problems in the Middle East and hence feels it is them that need to compromise.

After Hamas’ win in 2006 in the legislative election, hostility grew between Fatah and Hamas. During this time, Hamas was also in conflict with Israel. Israel was claimed responsible for eight Palestinians on the Gaza beach which led to Hamas breaking the 16-month cease fire it had recently signed. This led to over one third of Hamas’ cabinet to be captured by Israel. Soon after this occurred, Hamas and Fatah got into a civil war. This led to Hamas keeping its control of Gaza and Fatah controlling the West Bank, a major divide. This small war was known as the Battle of the Gaza. It was at this point that President Abbas took a stand against the Hamas and banned Hamas militia. Throughout this battle, the United States helped support Abbas and Fatah in hopes to get rid of Hamas and its government.

Another ceasefire between Israel and Hamas occurred in June 2008, with Israel allowing commercial shipping into the Gaza and the Palestinians possibly releasing Gilad Shalit, a soldier that was captured in the fighting of 2006. This ceasefire held its own until the end of 2008 when Israel killed members of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas retaliated by shooting rockets into Israel. After this, Hamas stated that they would end the ceasefire that was soon to expire but eventually calmed down and was willing to agree to another ceasefire if Israel allowed more to come through the Gaza borders. Israel felt that this notion was insincere based on the evidence of the multitude of rockets Hamas was launching and later invaded the Gaza. This is known as Operation Cast Lead. The purpose was to go after warehouses holding weaponry. Finally, another ceasefire was issued more recently in January of 2009.


Fatah is the largest political party for the Palestinian people and is considered a more liberal party. It was founded in 1954 with one of the founders being Yassar Arafat. Fatah’s goal is to gain an independent Palestinian state for its people. It was the first group of exiled Palestinians to attack Israel. In 1967, Fatah became a part of the PLO and gained power right away. Two years later Fatah’s leader, Arafat, became the chairman of the PLO.

Fatah has participated in many battles and wars since it joined the PLO. First, Fatah was a part of the Battle of Karameh. Israel went after Fatah’s headquarters, which were located in Jordan, after being attacked by rockets by the Palestinians. This ended with the withdrawal of Israel as they did not want to start a war. Due to this, Fatah was victorious even though it lost 150 of its members. Next, the Jordanians committed what is known as Black September. The Palestinian people began taking over a part of Jordan where they resided and were treating Jordanian civilians poorly. In retaliation, the Jordanians attacked the Palestinian people causing many casualties. This led to a ceasefire between Jordan and the Palestinian people. The event of Black September, led to an uprising of Fatah. They began to train militant groups around the world and were receiving weaponry and support from the USSR and China. After Arafat died in 2004, Farouk Kaddoumi took over as chairman of Fatah. Fatah also supported Abbas in the Presidential election of 2006. Throughout Fatah’s existence, the United States’ view on the party has changed. Until 1988, the United States viewed Fatah as a terrorist group that it was not willing to deal with. However, it 1988 is took away this perception and is more willing to speak and negotiate with the group. The U.S. will not speak or deal with Hamas because they are viewed as a terrorist group and hence the only way for the U.S. to reach Palestinian government is through Fatah. This explains why the U.S. was willing to help Fatah in the Battle of the Gaza.

In 2005, there was a split within the Fatah party. Marwan Barghouti, who was and is currently in an Israeli prison, decided to form a new political party called al-Mustaqbal. This means “The Future” in Arabic. This party is composed of young Fatah members that are referred to as the “Young Guard”. These members have chosen to leave Fatah because they cannot get along and comprise with the leaders of the party who are referred to as the “Old Guard”. Originally, al-Mustaqbal was going to have its own campaign in the legistlative election of 2006, but Barghouti decided to have only one list for both al-Mustaqbal and Fatah in the election. He even campaigned from prison.

The idea behind this new party is extremely controversial. Many view Barghouti as the new Palestinian hero, and the only hope for a chance at real peace in the Middle East. Currently, in 2009, Barghouti is serving multiple life sentences that are being discussed. Rumors periodically arise that Israelis are considering lifting this sentence and releasing him because he is seen as one of the only hopes for peace.

The Palestinian Electoral System

In 2002, a temporary constitution for the basic law of the government was created and was used until the permanent constitution was complete. This law in terms of elections stated that the current president would keep his position until the official constitution was finished. When Arafat died in 2005, this law was changed to a law like the United States’ in that a presidential term would be four years. At this time, an elections law was also passed by the PLC that stated that both the presidential and legislative elections would be held in the same year. Once Hamas gained control of the legislature in 2006, it did not agree with this idea and did not amend the basic law. Due to this, Hamas believes that the next election for President is in 2009. However, Fatah and the PA have chosen to follow the election law and thus believe the presidential election is in 2010, when the next legislative election is. This controversy is a major issue in the Palestinian government and Abbas recently extended what Hamas considered his term by another year.


Rossi, Melissa. What Every American Should Know About the Middle East. New York: Plume Books, 2008

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