What did the PLO do in Lebanon?
The complexities which rise in the Middle East because of the multi-ethnic societies are particularly concentrated in Lebanon. This, in turn, played its part in influencing the ever-changing political structure of the country and led to a long and bloody civil war leading to tensions which are still present and running high, fed only by the political motives of the neighboring countries.
After achieving independence in 1943, a ‘national pact’ was created to provide a balance to all the political powers existing in Lebanon namely Christians, Greeks, Sunni and Shia Muslims. However, the census that it was based on is now highly outdated in that country where the Muslim majority is now residing alongside 18 other sects.
It was in 1948 that the ethnic structure of Lebanon was transformed with an influx of nearly 110,000 Palestinians taking refuge from the Arab-Israel War. A second large influx of Palestinian refugees entered Lebanon after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. At the time the civil war broke out, there were nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It was at this time that Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) moved its resistance movement to Lebanon, motivated more after the Black September in Jordan. The idea behind this step was that PLO could use its fighting strength against Israel better from this position as the political scene of Lebanon was more fragmented and they also had supporters in Lebanon that were sympathetic to Palestinian cause.
Tension in the area was heightened by the increasing attacks on Israeli settlements and subsequent counter-attacks by Israeli Defense Force. At this point, PLO was a loose union of different political and armed groups but was brought together under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. Present Israeli sources make PLO stand responsible for all the terrorism activities in Lebanon, clouding the facts.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) carried out further attacks on Israeli civilians by hijacking planes in Athens and Algiers. Israel retaliated to this by bombing 13 civilian aircraft carriers in Beirut airport as it accused Lebanese government as supporters of PFLP. This heightened the tensions between Maronite Christian population which opposed Palestinian presence in the country and the Muslims who supported them.
PLO was given an even greater autonomy over Lebanon in the 1969 Cairo Agreement in return for PLO recognizing Lebanese sovereignty. This and the following violent political movements increased the tensions further, to the point that a civil war broke out in 1975 in which Syria, Israel and the PLO had their proxy wars. Mahmoud Taha joined Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine leaving his job as an electrician in Saudi Arabia. He said, “We have to fight the Israelis any place we can…We brought the war to Lebanon but I did not think for one day that the war was against the Lebanese. We were obliged to fight the war inside Lebanon, but we didn’t want it”.
According to an estimate, up to 200,000 people were killed during the course of 14 years of conflict and another million were displaced, both internally and internationally. A number of Lebanese cities lay in ruins today due to the bombardments from the IDF, the Syrian Army, the Lebanese National Movement and the Lebanese Front. Official end to the civil war was put in November 1989 with the ratification of Ta’if Agreement or ‘National Reconciliation Accord’.