But the blueprint for the PLO was drawn by Arab states at an Arab League meeting in Cairo in January 1964. Arab states, especially Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, were chiefly interested in channeling Palestinian nationalism in such a way that Palestinian refugees on their soil would not destabilize their regimes. The motive behind the creation of the PLO was therefore duplicitous from the start: Publicly, Arab nations averred solidarity with the Palestinian cause of reclaiming Israel. But strategically, the same nations, intent on keeping Palestinians on a short leash, funded and used the PLO as a means to control Palestinian militancy while using it for leverage in relations with the West and, in the 1980s and 1990s, with Israel.
The PLO became more militant, independent and effective than Arabs intended, especially under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. The PLO's influence has waned, however, since 1982--first, with its expulsion from Lebanon, then with its siding with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War, and finally through Arafat's fitful and ultimately ineffective leadership in peace negotiations with Israel.
For a fuller account of the history of the PLO, see What Is the PLO?