Focus on Issues the Arab Fear of the PLO
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Focus on Issues the Arab Fear of the PLO

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“I think there does seem to be a hesitation in many countries to accept in their country a group of people who have a pattern of arming themselves and in effect forming a government within a government. It’s not anything that a country that can help it will tolerate.”

This was the reply by Secretary of State George Shultz at his Senate confirmation hearing when he was asked about the difficulty in finding an Arab country that would take in the some 6,000 Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists now in west Beirut. But Arab reluctance may have been based on an even greater fear of the PLO than just an implied threat.

An example is described by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in his well-written and interesting second volune of memoirs, “Years of Upheaval.” Kissinger reports on the PLO’s willingness to accept Jordan as a Palestinian state in return for the overthrow of King Hussein.

In mid-1973, Richard Helms, then U.S. Ambassador to Iran, wrote Kissinger that one of his aides had been approached by an associate of PLO chief Yasir Arafat seeking a dialogue with the U.S. on the propositions that “Israel is here to stay” and Jordan should be the place for a Palestinian state.


“I considered King Hussein a valued friend of the United States and a principal hope for diplomatic progress in the region,” Kissinger wrote in his memoirs. “Our aim should be to strengthen his position, not to encourage a group that avowed its determination to overthrow him in its first communication with us.”

Kissinger replied to Helms that the PLO should be told that while the U.S. was interested in hearing ideas from the Palestinians on how to promote a Middle East peace through negotiations, “the overthrow of existing governments in the Arab world was not acceptable; we are committed to the survival of the Kingdom of Jordan.”

Kissinger said that 10 days later the U.S. received a similar approach from the PLO through King Hassan of Morocco. Then on October 10, four days after the Yom Kippur War had started, Arafat in a message to the U.S., predicted that Israel would rout Syria and Egypt and said the PLO wanted to participate in the subsequent negotiations. “The ‘score’ it had to settle was with Jordan, not Israel,” according to Kissinger.


Gen. Vernon Walters had a meeting with a PLO representative in Morocco on November 3, the first and only by the U.S., according to Kissinger. He was instructed by Kissinger to tell the PLO that the Palestinian problem was not an international concern but an inter-Arab one.

“It was up to the PLO to straighten out its relationships with other Arab states — with one proviso: We would participate in no maneuver aimed at Jordan; the PLO’s real option was reconciliation with the Hashemite Kingdom not its overthrow,” Kissinger wrote.

“What applied to Jordan was even more true of Israel. Walters was to make clear that the United States would oppose any threat to the survival of Israel and any challenge to its legitimacy.” The only result of the Walters meeting with the representatives, according to Kissinger, was to achieve its original purpose of preventing radical assaults on the early stages of the post-Yom Kippur War peacemaking.

This account demonstrates not only the PLO effort to use recognition of Israel as a tactical bargaining point as was seen during the Israeli siege of west Beirut, but as Israelis have often stressed, a Palestinian state on the West Bank would be more of a threat to Jordan than even to Israel.


Kissinger’s declaration that the Palestinian question is basically an inter-Arab issue still holds true although it does not negate the efforts to achieve an autonomy agreement under the Camp David process. There would be no Palestinian problem today, if, after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Arab countries had integrated the Palestinian refugees into their countries as refugees throughout the world had been taken into new homes and, as indeed, Israel absorbed the survivors of the Holocaust and the Jews from Arab countries.

The Palestinian question only became an international issue after the 1973 oil embargo. “Before 1973, the PLO rarely intruded into international negotiations,” Kissinger said in his memoirs. And he noted in another passage: “The issue of contacts with Palestinians was therefore not in 1973 a major policy problem for the United States … The issue of a Palestinian state run by the PLO was not a subject of serious discourse.”

It has become one because the Arab states, having kept the Palestinians in refugee camps for 30 years in order to use them as a political weapon against Israel, now feared the very Frankenstein monster they created. They were able to use the anxiety in the West over the oil embargo to force the Palestinians on world attention.

The Arabs who created the problem now want it solved, not at their expense, but at Israel’s. Those who condemn Israel’s actions in Lebanon should first remember the historical roots that eventually led to “Operation Peace for Galilee.”

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