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Behind the Headlines: PLO No Longer As Broadly Based As It Was when Founded in 1964

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The agreement Israel recently concluded with the Palestine Liberation Organization was signed with an organization very different from the one that was founded in East Jerusalem in June 1964.

The new PLO is different not only in ideology but also in structure. In recent years it has shrunk considerably, a result of an endless chain of frictions, both personal and organizational. This process accelerated in recent weeks, as opponents of the peace process resigned from influential positions.

More than ever, Yasser Arafat can declare that he and the PLO are one and the same.

This is a situation that Arafat is none too happy about. He would prefer the representative body of the Palestinians to be broader-based, as it used to be.

The PLO was originally formed as a coalition of terrorist organizations. Its main components have been:

Al Fatah, a mainstream faction led by Arafat himself;

the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a rejectionist faction led by George Habash;

the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a socialist-oriented, rejectionist faction led by Nayef Hawatmeh;

the radical Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, led by Ahmed Jabril;

the Palestine Liberation Front, backed by Iraq and Libya, and led by Mahmoud Zeidan (alias Abul Abbas);

A-Saika, a protege of Syria; and

the Arab Liberation Front, supported by Iraq.

The Islamic fundamentalist Hamas organization, the second largest political organization in the administered territories, is not part of the PLO umbrella.

Negotiations to bring Hamas into the PLO have failed in the past, because Hamas wanted a minimum of 40 percent representation in the PLO bodies, whereas Arafat was willing to offer a minimal 5 percent.

OPPONENTS WITHIN FATAH

Since the October 1991 conference in Madrid that launched the current peace process, the two major rejectionist movements, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front, have boycotted meetings of the PLO’s executive committee, the organization’s chief governing body.

This has made Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization even stronger as the main body of the PLO, with a few small organizations left as coalition partners, as well as a number of politically “independent” representatives.

The leading members of the executive committee are mostly Fatah members: Arafat, who is chairman; Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, who has been put in charge of the peace negotiations with Israel; Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the political department, who has not supported the accord with Israel; and Yasser Abed Rabbo, head of the information department, known as a strong advocate of the dialogue with Israel.

Of the 18 members of the executive committee, only 12 took part in the recent voting on the agreement with Israel. The others were members of the rejectionist fronts that have been boycotting the executive committee, or members of the Fatah organization who opposed the agreement.

These opponents within Fatah include Shafik al-Hout, the PLO’s representative in Lebanon, and Mahmoud Darwish, a poet usually known for his relatively moderate views, whose motivation to resign from the executive committee is not quite clear.

Whereas Arafat has proven that he controls the executive committee, his majority is not certain in the broader bodies of the organization, such as the Central Council, numbering 53 members and of minor operational importance, and the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian parliament in exile, numbering from 400 to 600 members (depending on the political circumstances at the time).

The PNC convenes, according to its charter, every two years to adopt major policy decisions. Recently it was demanded that the PNC convene to discuss the accord with Israel. Arafat opposed such a move, for fear that he might not have the necessary majority.

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