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Ekstrom Library

Government Resources and International Information: Palestinians

Who Are the Palestinians?

The Palestinians are Arabs who live in the geographical area that constitutes present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, or who have historical nd/or cultural ties to that area. Since the early 20th Century, the desire to establish an independent state in historic Palestine has remained the dominant Palestinian national goal. Over time, Palestinians have differed among themselves, with Israelis, and with others over the nature and extent of such a state and the legitimacy of various means to achieve it. Today, the “Palestinian Question” focuses on whether and how Palestinians can overcome internal divisions and external opposition to establish a viable, independent state capable of fulfilling their shared national aspirations. Along with the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem (which include nearly 2 million U.N.-registered refugees), nearly 3 million Palestinian U.N.-registered refugees outside these territories, in addition to a wider diaspora, await a permanent resolution of their situation.  Source: Congressional Research Service

Palestine Liberation Organization

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is recognized by the United Nations (including Israel since 1993) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, wherever they may reside. It is an umbrella organization that includes 10 Palestinian factions (but not Hamas or other Islamist groups). As described above, the PLO was founded in 1964, and, since 1969, has been dominated by the secular nationalist Fatah movement. Organizationally, the PLO consists of an Executive Committee,69 the Palestinian National Council (or PNC, its legislature), and a Central Council.

After waging guerrilla warfare against Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s under the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat from exile in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia, the PNC declared Palestinian independence and statehood in 1988. This came at a point roughly coinciding with the PLO’s decision to publicly accept the “land-for-peace” principle of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and to contemplate recognizing Israel’s right to exist. The declaration had little practical effect, however, because the PLO was in exile in Tunisia and did not define the territorial scope of its state.71 Nevertheless, the PLO refers to its Executive Committee chairman as the “President of the State of Palestine.” The PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist in 1993 upon the signing of the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accord) between the two parties.

While the PA maintains a measure of self-rule over various areas of the West Bank, as well as a legal claim to self-rule over Gaza despite its Hamas-led de facto regime,72 the PLO remains the  epresentative of the Palestinian people in negotiations with Israel and with other international actors. The PLO has a representative in Washington, DC (although it is not considered a formal diplomatic mission). Under the name “Palestine,” the PLO is a member of UNESCO, maintains a permanent observer mission to the United Nations in New York and in Geneva as a “non-member state,” and has missions and embassies in other countries—some with full diplomatic status. The PLO also is a full member of both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Source: Congressional Research Service