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PFLP Definition

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PFLP - Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,  (al-Jabha al-Sha‘biyya li-Tahrir Filastin) - founded in 1967 by George Habash as a member of the PLO. Marxist radical movement that has the goal of eliminating the state of Israel through terror and other means. Joined the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF) to oppose the Declaration of Principles signed in 1993 and suspended participation in the PLO. Broke away from the APF, along with the DFLP, in 1996 over ideological differences.


 Details - The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (al-Jabha al-Sha‘biyya li-Tahrir Filastin) was formed in 1967 based in the Arab Nationalists’ Movement (Harakat al-Qawmiyya al-Arab). It believes Arab disunity and  pro-Western leanings of leaders (especially Abdullah and  Nuri al-Said) were responsible for the 198 disaster (al-Nakba)

Arab Nationalists' Movement - George Habash and  Hani al-Hindi (a Syrian volunteer in 1948 war), both students at the American University of Beirut, started by helping in the formation of the Battalions of Arab Sacrifice (al-Kata'ib al-Fida' al-Arabi), led by Tawfiq al-Hakim (influences from Garibaldi, the Italian Carbonari, the Young Italy Movement, Bismarck, the Ikhwan and  the Syrian National Party, that is, a strain of fascism, which used violence against Western targets. However,  after al-Kata'ib leadership was captured after attempted assassination of Adib Shishakli in 1950, Habash and  al-Hindi decided upon a more focused campaign against Israel through the student group, al-Urwa al-wuthqa (‘The Firmest Bond’), they had been organizing from 1949-50 at the American University of Beirut; also recruiting Wadi Haddad (Abu Hani), a Greek Orthodox Christian refugee from Safad; Ahmad al-Khatib, a Kuwaiti medical student; Muhsin Ibrahim, a Shi‘i Lebanese teacher and formed what became the ANM (Arab Nationalists Movement) with assistance of student groups in Lebanon/Syria/Jordan in 1951-2 (though they only took the name in 1956, with 1st conference): liberation of Palestine as primary goal, but seen as possible only through wider anti-colonial campaign in Arab States.

ANMs strongly secularist orientation drew Christians into its ranks. The ANM grew slowly, especially following the dominance of Ba‘thists; but expanded in 1956-7 largely through the recruitment of teachers in UNRWA camps in West Bank, Syria and  Lebanon. Its branch in the Aden region, the National Liberation Front, was especially strong, and  was a key part of the 1967 formation of South Yemen. Used al-Hurriyya (Freedom) magazine as outlet, ed. by Muhsin Ibrahim. With demonstrations against the Baghdad Pact, 22 mostly ANM students were expelled from the American University in Beirut and  were offered places by Nasser at Cairo University. ANM therefore came to coordinate with him more closely, especially after Suez crisis and became firmly supportive of Nasser and  campaign shifted from coordinating commando raids on Israel to undermining of Hashemites and  assisting of Palestinians in Lebanon civil war in 1958, with Syrian help (especially ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, interior minister); derived much of its support through its closeness to Nasser (eg dominance of the General Union of Palestine Students by mid60s). But with 1961 and  failed 1963 Syrian coup, shifted base back to Beirut. In 1959, decided that a separate Palestinian committee shd be formed to respond to increased rhetoric from Nasser, but did not form a separate branch; only with increased dominance of those within ANM who argued that social revolution throughout the Arab world was necessary for Palestine liberation (Ibrahim, Hawatmah, Muhammed Kishli), their opponents in the ANM, impatient with ideological debate, regrouped (to much internal contention) at May1964 National Conference to form the Palestinian Action Command, an autonomous Palestinian branch. The refrained from military action at Nasser’s insistence, but were more sympathetic (especially Haddad) to commando action, especially with PLA formation and  Fatah’s commencement of actions. They therefore quietly undertook preparatory steps from late 1963 through the ‘Struggle Apparatus’ and  could claim their first ‘martyr’ on 2 Nov 64 in a reconnaissance mission. They used the weekly Filastin to promote their views.

They increasingly moved to armed struggle, especially with Nasser’s increased bellicosity and  with urgency added by argument that Israel would soon have nuclear weapons and  would have fully settled the Negev. They therefore formed an formed alliance with  the PLO/PLA  to form the Heroes of Return (Abtal al-‘Awda, led by Wajih al-Madani {PLA commander}, commencing attacks from October 1966. Their public rhetoric became increasingly similar to that of Fatah. Thoroughly disillusioned by the ‘67war, at 1st stressing need for careful preparation for military operations; but with popular pressure, Fatah’s relaunch in occupied territories and  Ahmad Jibril’s Palestine Liberation Front announcing the commencement of armed activities, moved to immediate start of combat operations: joined with Jibril’s PLF, the Heroes of Return and  a group of Jordanian Nasserites led by Ahmad Za‘rur to form the PFLP, whose presence was announced through a (failed) attack (11Dec). Although based in Syria, tensions arose with authorities, who suspected them of involvement in coup planning, especially given the historic tension between the ANM and  Ba‘thists. They arrested Habash and  2 other leading members (19 Mar 68), holding them until Habash escaped in Nov, leadership left to Za‘rur and  Jibril. With Habash in prison, leftists led by Hawatmah managed to call a conference to issue a 'Basic political Statement', criticizing Nasser (Aug68) and therefore Nasser cut off aid to PFLP.

PFLP’s decision to withdraw at the battle of Karameh led to extensive internal disputes. Jibril broke away to form PF-GC with Za’rur and  approx.1/4 of PFLP; Hawatmah and  Yasir ‘Abd-Rabbu led the leftists out to form PDFLP (Maoist / Trotskyist), arguing that ANM was cooperating excessively with Arab governments rather than undermining them (assisted by Fatah, Sa’iqa and  PLA): with Lebanese branch, took control of al-Hurriyya. PFLP started al-Hadaf (Target), a weekly edited by Ghassan Kanafani (and  after his assassination, by Bassam Abu Sharif). But with enhanced prestige for guerrillas, also brought large numbers of new recruits. Out of guerrilla groups, most strongly viewed Israelis as enemies, beginning high profile and  international attacks from Jul68, coordinated especially by Haddad. Remained wary of PLO, which it viewed as vulnerable to Arab States’ influence. Therefore it took seats in the PNC from May 68  but did not join PLO. PDFLP split encouraged Marxist and  Maoist turn rhetorically (declared itself a Marxist-Leninist organization from its Feb69 national congress), though leadership remained the same. Thus, ANM dissolved (in effect), with PFLP formally the Palestinian branch of a wider pan-Arab (but otherwise non-existent) party; this turn also led to a break with Egypt, and therefore Iraq, under Ba'thists, became main source of funding. Has seen Palestinian liberation as part of wider Arab revolution, urging and  involving itself in the overthrow of ‘reactionary’ Arab regimes, and  the internationalization of the Palestinian problem (and therefore supported attacks and  hijacking outside ME); rejected the call for a democratic State in PLO Charter. It only joined PLO (with PF-GC) when it saw Fatah turn against Hashemites in May 70. It  remained with only token participation in PNCs until Jul71 when it joined PLO-EC. Internal rifts after Black September, with many of the younger cadres blaming the leadership’s strategy for provoking the massacres at Mar72 national congress resulting in a temporary suspension of international violence (in part due to USSR pressure; but resumed in Feb72), condemnation of hijacking (5/11/70) and  dissolution of central committee. With Habash and  Hindi retreating from leadership roles from 1972, PFLP was increasingly led by Mustafa al-Zabri (for West Bank, Jordan), Ahmad al-Yamani (for Lebanon), Muhammad al-Musallami (for Gaza). A central committee was re-established in Feb73, and  a politburo in Jun73, but internal splits meant that Habash and  his “central leadership” body were in control. Tension with Syria also constrained activities after 1973; few terrorist attacks (especially explosion of oil storage tanks in Singapore 31Jan75 and  suicide bomb in Tel Aviv cinema 11Dec74) and  failed assassination of King Husayn (1975)  and gradually reduced guerrilla activities. However, it has generally favored armed struggle over diplomacy, and  rejected solutions involving partition. It was therefore instrumental in formation of Rejection Front in Oct 74 under Iraqi aegis, and  led campaign in Lebanon against the phased program, under Taysir Quba‘a. It was criticism of the USSR due to its two State solution proposals. Also, due to unwillingness to restrain activities against Syria and  retreat from alliance with Junblatt during Lebanese civil war (cf Fatah) in 1976, it lost substantial no of its fighters and was  very weak at time of Mar 77 PNC, and  unable to win support for their opposition to Fatah’s program. Only rejoined PLO after ‘unity statement’ of Dec 77 which rejected Sadat’s initiative and  SCR 242, and  rejected negotiation, recognition, peace with Israel, claiming that ‘phased’ political program of Jun74 PNC was over (also in part due to Iraqi reconciliation with conservative Arab governments and danger in losing their source of support).

After Wadi’ Haddad’s death from cancer (28Mar78), it claimed it no longer supported ‘external operations’; but has continued to attempt the assassination of individuals it sees as traitors: especially Shaykh Khuzundar in 1979, Zafir al-Masri in 1986, and  successfully intimidated (and  firebombing of the 2 cars of) Hanna Sinioria (editor of al-Fajr) for standing in the Jerusalem municipal council elections in Jun 87. PFLP’s attempts to regroup opposition to Fatah after Camp David failed, prompting reexit from PLO-EC and  cooperation with Abu Nidal faction (Jan 79). From late 1979, obtained support primarily from Syria, USSR, Libya, and  became critical of Iraq and  China. However, shift of strategy at Apr-May 81 national congress, which accepted that partition could be the first step toward total liberation. It was outside the PLO-EC again from 1985-7, and  from Jan 92 when it called for withdrawal from Madrid process. It had retracted by May92, insisting instead that the terms of participation in talks to be changed. By September, it joined with DFLP in calling for negotiations to be based on SCR242 which led to opposition coalition of 10 being formed in Damascus. Came to be led by Mustafa al-Zabri (Abu Ali Mustafa) as Habash moved out of center stage, formally from the 6th national Congress in Jul 00, until his assassination in Aug 01 by Israel. The PFLP was responsible for the assassination of Israeli Tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi in October 2001, in revenge for the assassination of Zabri.

Ahmad Sa'adat was elected to replace Mustafa al-Zabri in Oct 01. Other leaders include ‘Abd al-Rahim Malluh (non-participating member of the PLO-EC, deputy Secretary General from Oct 01), Taysir Quba‘a Jamil al-Majdalawi (in  Gaza), Mahayr al-Tahir (PF spokesman, based in Damascus), Ahmad Qatamish, Sabir Muhyi al-Din. The 1st meeting between ‘Arafat and  PF representatives  in 1Aug99 in Cairo to discuss reconciliation. It left the Damascus 10 grouping, and  participates in the NIF. "Political initiative" of 30 Oct 00 is clearest in its limited call for a State in the 1967 territories. Organization - The PFLP central institutions are: i) the national congress, the supreme governing body, supposedly meeting every 4 years, but has only met 6 times, in Aug 68 (‘left’ wing vs ‘right’), Feb69 (accepting Marxist-Leninism), Mar 72 (critique of PF’s role in Jordan), Apr- May 81 (accepting an independent Palestinian State), Feb 93 (Habash-led criticism of the acting leadership, for compromising too much with Fatah), Jul 00 (appointing Zabri as Secretary General , recognizing reality of the PA whilst reiterating ultimate goal of all Palestine). Also extraordinary session in Oct 01, after Zabri's death, electing Sa'adat as Secretary General . National congress elects the central committee;

ii) the central committee, making policies between congress sessions and  intended to meet every 6 months; elects the secretary-general and  politburo members.

iii) the politburo, acting when central committee is not in session. At branch, regional and  district levels, the PFLP operates through supervisory congresses and  supervisory commands, which inter alia elects representatives to the higher organizational levels. Next level down is the league (made up of 3-5 cells). On the ground, the PFLP operates through cells and  circles, consisting of 3-10 members and  trainees, each with own leader, who are responsible for the training of recruits.

Source:  Palestinian Parties

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:  Palestinian Parties

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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