The first PNC, composed of 422 representatives, met in Jerusalem in May 1964 and adopted the Palestinian National Covenant (also called Palestinian National Charter). It also established the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the political expression of the Palestinian people and elected Ahmad Al-Shuqeiry as the first chairman of the PLO Executive Committee. At the conference were representatives from Palestinian communities in Jordan, West Bank, the Gaza strip, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Libya, and Algeria.
Subsequent sessions were held in Cairo (1965), Gaza (1966), Cairo (1968 – 1977), Damascus (1979 – 1981), Algiers (1983), Amman (1984), Algiers (1987 – 1991), and Gaza (1996 and 1998).
At the February 1969 meeting in Cairo, Yasser Arafat was appointed leader of the PLO.
In a November 1988 meeting in Algiers, the PNC unilaterally declared the independence of the Arab State of Palestine.
After the signing of the Oslo Accords, the PNC met in Gaza in April 1996 and voted 504 to 54 to void parts of the Palestinian National Covenant that denied Israel's right to exist. One its most prominent members, the Palestinian-American scholar and activist Edward Said, left the PNC because he believed that the Oslo Accords sold short the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in pre-1967 Israel.
In December 1998, the PNC met in Gaza at the insistence of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it a condition on the continuation of the peace process. In the presence of the US President Clinton, it reaffirmed again the annulling of the parts of the Covenant which denied Israel's right to exist.
As of 2003, the PNC is chaired by Salim Zanoun and has 669 members; 88 are from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), 98 represent the Palestinian population living in the occcupied territories, and 483 represent the Palestinian diaspora.