FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Difference the PLO Made

by RON JACOBS

April 1975.  University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.  A friend and I sat at a literature table in front of the Student Union building.  It was lunchtime and we were putting in our hours talking with people about the issues of the day.  University cutbacks were the primary topic of conversation, but some folks who stopped by seemed more interested in the unfolding final scene of the US war in Southeast Asia.  The final offensive of the national liberation forces was underway in Vietnam.  Lon Nol’s regime had just fallen.  The forces of US imperialism were on the run.  Things were heating up in Lebanon between leftist forces supported by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and various Maronites eventually identified with the right wing Phalangist militia.  The literature on our table covered most of these issues.  Nonetheless, we were still somewhat surprised when four guys walked up to the table, begin taking our pamphlets in support of the PLO and tearing them up.  My cohort asked them what the hell they were doing.  The biggest guy (who I actually remembered from high school) told him to shut the fuck up.  My friend took that as a challenge and the next thing I knew the table was turned over and we were defending ourselves from physical attack.  Fortunately, a few students that were hanging out came to our defense and the attackers left.  After asking around, we discovered that the men who had confronted us were members of the local Jewish Defense League (JDL), a right-wing racist organization under the leadership of Rabbi Meir Kahane.  They were also University of Maryland students.  I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback at their angry actions.  As the semester wore down, these men or other JDL members would stand near our literature table, looking menacing and keeping some interested passersby from engaging us.

In 1975, the PLO was the dominant force in Palestinian politics.  It was a secular organization composed of nationalists, Marxists and others determined to bring about Palestinian statehood.  Just like there were a variety of political trends in the organization, there were Christians, Muslims and atheists.  Although the PLO had been in existence since 1964, its true rise to power began in 1967 after the Israeli defeat of the Arab nations in the June war.  Today, it is a shell of its former self, weakened by the rise of Hamas, the death of its leader Yasser Arafat, and the failure of its diplomatic pursuit of statehood.  Palestine is in straits all too close to those in which it found itself during the PLO’s heyday.  Under constant Israeli economic and military onslaught, the Palestinian people still in what remains of the former Palestine are mostly poor, and almost completely subject to the whims of the Israeli government and its armed forces.  This is not an accident.  Indeed, as Paul Thomas Chamberlain’s new history of the PLO, titled The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order, makes quite clear, Tel Aviv is determined to never give the Palestinians a nation of their own.  The continued intransigence of Israel combined with an increasing stubbornness on the part of Washington to a just settlement has insured both the longevity and the nature of the conflict.

Chamberlain begins his book by defining a few of his terms.  Because the PLO is historically identified with the word “terrorism,” Chamberlain discusses the baggage associated with the term and explains his usage as being de-politicized.  He also explains his position on the conflict between Israel and Palestine: he believes Israel has the right to exist and the Palestinians deserve a sovereign state on the lands of the West Bank and Gaza.  By focusing his book solely on the military heyday of the  PLO (1967-1975), Chamberlain avoids a discussion of later liberation groups such as Hamas.  This focus also serves to deepen his exploration of the meaning of the PLO in the time period examined.

Placing the PLO directly in the context of the numerous struggles for national liberation occurring around the globe in the 1960s and 1970s, Chamberlain details the support the PLO and its fighters received from those movements.  The PLO’s alliances with many of these groups is also considered and explained.  By providing this context, it becomes clear that the success of the PLO was in large part related to the time of its appearance in history.  Without the revolutionary wave sweeping the world during the period, it seems unlikely that the PLO would have had the success it did.  The same could probably be true for most of the PLO’s revolutionary allies.  Conversely, the military strength of Washington and Tel Aviv prevented much of the potential of that movement.

The PLO did not speak with a single voice.  Although Fatah was the largest group within the organization and Arafat was Fatah’s leader, smaller factions acted within the context of the PLO while simultaneously angering other elements.  These factions included the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and its offshoots, along with Black September (formed in the wake of the PLO’s defeat by the Jordanian military).  Perhaps the best known of these factions was Black September, whose spectacular terror attacks during the Munich 1972 Olympics and at the Lod Airport sealed its infamy.  The Global Offensive chronicles the attacks, the battles and the differences within the PLO.  In a similar vein, the text also details the differences in opinion over policy within the United States government.  It also makes a point of discussing the minimizing of those differences once the Nixon-Kissinger team took over matters of war and state in Washington, DC.  Chamberlain pulls no punches when he argues that Washington’s decision to support Israel right or wrong beginning with these two men provided Tel Aviv with the only outside rationale it needed to continue its murderous and expansionist policies against the Palestinian people.

As I write this review, Kemal Meshal of Hamas is once again calling for the PLO and Hamas to join forces.  Ever since the rise of Hamas over the last twenty years and the subsequent weakening of the PLO, these calls have become infrequent.  In part, this is due to differences in the PLO charter and that of Hamas; other reasons for the dual existence include the role of religion in the struggle and the nature of the Palestinian state.  It is difficult to state whether Hamas’ renewed desire to join the PLO stems from a belief that it is currently in a powerful position vis-à-vis Fatah or if the opposite is true.  The only thing that is certain is that Israeli and US intransigence is worse than ever.

Paul Thomas Chamberlain’s book remembers a time when the world was in a popular left-oriented revolt against the forces of imperialism and colonialism.  He places the PLO’s global offensive squarely in that time.  While relating the group’s history, he tells the story of a resistance up against a pair of indomitable foes, determined to do whatever it took to prevent the PLO’s survival.  This book provides a history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with an emphasis on objectivity and clarity. It is not pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli.  While reading it, it becomes clear that the solution to the conflict lies in a real nation for the Palestinian people.   Of course, this will probably not happen until the United States and Israel act in a manner that encourages such a solution. The story between these two covers is a narrative not only useful but essential to understanding the sphinx that is the Palestinian struggle.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail