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Politics (Pre-Oslo)

The PLO's organizational equivalent to a parliament was the Palestine National Council (PNC), in 1989 based in Algiers. The PNC's 301 deputies represented the Palestinian diaspora. Included among them were representatives of the Palestinian parties (the political wings of the various guerrilla groups); the six guerrilla groups which accept the policies of the PLO (Al Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, ALF, PLF, and the Palestine Communist Party); student and educational groups; youth and women's groups; professional associations; labor unions; and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. In addition, the Palestinian communities in various Arab and non- Arab countries were represented.

The PNC was supposed to meet once a year, but political complications often forced the postponement of annual gatherings. The factional strife that plagued the PLO following the sixteenth PNC conclave in February 1983 prevented convening a full session for four years. Although a PNC meeting was held in Amman in November 1984, its legitimacy was questioned because several of the guerrilla leaders, including Habash of the PFLP and Hawatmah of the DFLP, refused to attend. The eighteenth PNC, which met in Algiers in April 1987, represented the first effort to heal the rift in the PLO and achieve a consensus on policy. Although the PFLP-GC, As Saiqa, the PSF, and the Abu Musa faction did not participate, the PFLP, DFLP, and the Palestine Communist Party--the three guerrilla groups that, like Al Fatah, had a reputation for independence of Arab governments--did attend and agreed to accept PNC decisions. Abu Nidal also attended the eighteenth PNC. However, the other leaders voted not to grant his group representation on the PNC because they believed his reputation as a notorious terrorist would tarnish the PLO's image at a time when the organization was seeking diplomatic support for an international peace conference.

The 1987 PNC meeting adopted several significant resolutions pertaining to the PLO's conflict with Israel. It voted to endorse an international peace conference on the basis of UN General Assembly resolutions that recognized the PLO and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination; it called for PLO participation in such a conference as a full partner, and not as part of a Jordanian delegation; it abrogated the PLO-Jordan accord of 1985, but also advocated maintaining "special" ties between Jordanians and Palestinians; and it authorized the PLO to develop relations with groups in Israel that supported Palestinian self- determination. These decisions were a prelude to the even more significant resolutions that were passed at the historic nineteenth PNC meeting in Algiers in November 1988.

Between PNC congresses, the Palestine Central Committee (PCC), created in 1973, set policies and carried out specific programs and actions undertaken by the PLO's cabinet, the fifteen-member Executive Committee. The PCC's actual function, however, was limited to a consultative role; its sixty members, appointed by the PNC based on the recommendation of the Executive Committee, included representatives from the Executive Committee and the major guerrilla groups. The PNC's speaker or chairman presided over PCC meetings. The legislative and executive functions of these top PLO bodies were in accordance with the principles and policies contained in three key documents: the Palestinian National Charter; the Fifteen-Point Political Program; and the National Unity Program.

Although the PNC was officially described as the highest policymaking body and supreme organ of the PLO, the real center of power was the fifteen-member Executive Committee. The committee's members were elected by and collectively responsible to the PNC. The manner of their election ensured representation of the major guerrilla and political groups on the committee. Arafat was re- elected chairman of the Executive Committee in 1988, a position he has held since 1969. Al Fatah had three seats on the committee; in addition, Arafat generally obtained the support of the seven "independents," the committee members who were not affiliated with any of the guerrilla groups.

The administration of the PLO was grouped under nine main functions that were carried out in different countries depending on local Palestinian needs. These were supported by funds collected and distributed by the PLO's treasury and financial arm, the Palestine National Fund. The fund obtained its revenues from payments made by Arab governments in accordance with agreements made at the summit level (i.e., the Baghdad Summit of 1978); from voluntary contributions by Palestinians; from the 3 to 6 percent income tax levied by some Arab states on the salaries of resident Palestinian workers; and from loans and grants by Arab as well as non-Arab countries. Iraq and Syria provided financial aid directly to particular guerrilla groups despite persistent efforts by the PLO to terminate this practice and to centralize fund-raising and fund-distributing procedures.

In 1989 the PLO maintained "diplomatic" missions in more than 120 countries that recognized it as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Although the PLO had not proclaimed a government-in-exile for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more than twenty-five countries recognized it as the de jure government of the independent state of Palestine, declared at the 1988 PNC meeting in Algiers. The PLO has maintained a mission at UN headquarters in New York since being granted observer status in 1974. The PLO also operated numerous "information offices" in the major cities of the world. In 1988 the United States government ordered the closure of PLO's information office in Washington.



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