The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been the embodiment of the Palestinian national movement. It is a broad national front, or an umbrella organization, comprised of numerous organizations of the resistance movement, political parties, popular organizations, and independent personalities and figures from all sectors of life. The Arab Summit in 1974 recognized the PLO as the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and since then the PLO has represented Palestine at the United Nations, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and in many other fora. In addition to its broad national and political goals, the PLO has dealt with numerous tasks with regard to the life of the Palestinian people in their main communities and throughout the world through the establishment of several institutions in such realms as health, education and social services. As such, the PLO is more than a national liberation movement striving to achieve the national goals of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
The PLO was established in 1964 with Arab support. At that time, the PLO was headed by Mr. Ahmed Al-Shukairy and, since then, has undergone significant changes in its composition, leading bodies, political orientation, and even the locales of its headquarters. The leading bodies of the PLO are the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Central Council, and the Executive Committee. Political pluralism has remained a defining feature of the organization, as have democratic internal dialogue and attempts to reach decisions by consensus in its bodies, recognizing the presence of many differing views and competing alliances throughout different periods. In 1968, the organization witnessed the beginning of the engagement of the Fedaiyeen organizations (armed struggle organizations), particularly Fateh. In 1969, Yasser Arafat, leader of Fateh, became the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO and, in 1971, he became the General Commander of the Palestine Forces. His name has been synonymous with the PLO and with the Palestinian national movement.
Since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the convening of general elections in January 1996 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, which were preceded by the return of most Palestinian leaders to their homeland, the Authoritys role and responsibilities continue to increase, in some ways at the expense of the PLO. In the Palestinian territory, as well as outside, Islamic groups remain outside the PLO, which traditionally has not mixed religion and politics.
In general, the current Palestinian situation is constantly changing and progressing towards the establishment of a state and the building of a Palestinian democracy. These changes will affect the PLO, but there is no doubt that, at least for some time, the PLO will continue its role as a very important Palestinian structure for the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, in the refugee camps, and throughout the world.