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The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) (Arabic: الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير فلسطين, romanized: "al-Jabha al-Shabiyah li-Tahrir Filastin" or "al-Jabhah al-Shaʿbīyyah li-Taḥrīr Filasṭīn")[a] is a secular Palestinian Marxist–Leninist and revolutionary socialist organization founded in 1967 by George Habash. It has consistently been the second-largest of the groups forming the Palestine Liberation Organization, the largest being Fatah.
Ahmad Sa'adat, who was sentenced in 2006 to 30 years in an Israeli prison, has served as General Secretary of the PFLP since 2001. The PFLP currently considers both the Fatah-led government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip illegal because elections to the Palestinian National Authority have not been held since 2006. As of 2015[update], the PFLP boycotts participation in the PLO Executive Committee and the Palestinian National Council.
The PFLP has generally taken a hard-line on Palestinian national aspirations, opposing the more moderate stance of Fatah. It does not recognize Israel, and promotes a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, in a "democratic Palestine", where "Arabs and Jews would live without discrimination". The military wing of the PFLP is called the Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades.
The PFLP is well known for pioneering armed aircraft-hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to PFLP Politburo member and former aircraft-hijacker Leila Khaled, the PFLP does not see suicide bombing as a form of resistance to occupation or as a strategic action or policy and no longer carries out such attacks. The PFLP has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, Japan, Canada, and the European Union.
The PFLP grew out of the Harakat al-Qawmiyyin al-Arab, or Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), founded in 1953 by George Habash, a Palestinian Christian, from Lydda. In 1948, 19-year-old Habash, a medical student, went to his home town of Lydda during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War to help his family. While he was there, the Israel Defense Forces attacked the city and as a result, most of its civilian population was forced to leave in what became known as the Lydda Death March that led to the death of his sister. They marched for three days without food or water until they reached the Arab armies' front lines. Habash finished his medical education in Lebanon at the American University in Beirut, graduating in 1951.
In an interview with US journalist John K. Cooley, Habash identified the Arab defeat by the Zionists as "the scientific society of Israel as against our own backwardness in the Arab world. This called for the total rebuilding of Arab society into a twentieth-century society."
The ANM was founded in this nationalist spirit. "[We] held the 'Guevara view' of the 'revolutionary human being'", Habash told Cooley. "A new breed of man had to emerge, among the Arabs as everywhere else. This meant applying everything in human power to the realization of a cause."
The ANM formed underground branches in several Arab countries, including Libya, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, then still under British rule. It adopted secularism and socialist economic ideas, and pushed for armed struggle. In collaboration with the Palestinian Liberation Army, the ANM established Abtal al-Audah (Heroes of the Return) as a commando group in 1966.
After the Six-Day War of June 1967, ANM merged in August with two other groups, Youth for Revenge and Ahmed Jibril's Syrian-backed Palestine Liberation Front, to form the PFLP, with Habash as leader. Three other independent groups, namely Heroes of the Return, the National Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Independent Palestine Liberation Front, also met with Habash to form the PFLP.
By early 1968, the PFLP had trained between one and three thousand guerrillas. It had the financial backing of Syria, and was headquartered there, and one of its training camps was based in as-Salt, Jordan. In 1969, the PFLP declared itself a Marxist–Leninist organization, but it has remained faithful to Pan Arabism, seeing the Palestinian struggle as part of a wider uprising against Western imperialism, which also aims to unite the Arab world by overthrowing "reactionary" regimes. It published a newspaper, al-Hadaf (The Target, or Goal), which was edited by Ghassan Kanafani.
The PFLP gained notoriety in the late 1960s and early 1970s for a series of armed attacks and aircraft hijackings, including on non-Israeli targets. Their Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades also claimed responsibility for several suicide attacks during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. See #Armed attacks of the PFLP below.
In 1967, Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) broke away from the PFLP.
In 1968, Ahmed Jibril broke away from the PFLP to form the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC).
In 1969, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) formed as a separate, ostensibly Maoist, organization under Nayef Hawatmeh and Yasser Abd Rabbo, initially as the PDFLP.
In 1972, the Popular Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Palestine was formed following a split in PFLP.
The PFLP had a troubled relationship with George Habash's one-time deputy, Wadie Haddad, who was eventually expelled because he refused orders to stop attacks and kidnapping operations abroad. Haddad has been identified in released Soviet archival documents as having been a KGB intelligence agent in place, who in 1975 received arms for the movement directly from Soviet sources in a nighttime transfer in the Sea of Aden.
The PFLP joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, in 1968, becoming the second-largest faction after Yassir Arafat's Fatah. In 1974, it withdrew from the PLO Executive Committee (but not from the PLO) to join the Rejectionist Front following the creation of the PLO's Ten Point Program, accusing the PLO of abandoning the goal of destroying Israel outright in favor of a binational solution, which was opposed by the PFLP leadership. It rejoined the executive committee in 1981.
In December 1993 PFLP withdrew from the PLO and became one of the ten founding members of the Damascus-based Alliance of Palestinian Forces, eight of which had been members of the PLO, which was opposed to the Oslo Accords process. PFLP withdrew from APF in 1998. Currently, the PFLP is boycotting participation in the PLO Executive Committee and the Palestinian National Council.
In December 2009, around 70,000 supporters demonstrated in Gaza to celebrate the PFLP's 42nd anniversary.
After the occurrence of the First Intifada and the subsequent Oslo Accords the PFLP had difficulty establishing itself in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At that time (1993–96) the popularity of Hamas was rapidly increasing in the wake of[colloquialism] their successful strategy of suicide bombings devised by Yahya Ayyash ("the Engineer"). The dissolution of the Soviet Union together with the rise of Islamism—and particularly the increased popularity of the Islamist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—disoriented many left activists who had looked towards the Soviet Union, and has marginalized the PFLP's role in Palestinian politics and armed resistance. However, the organization retains considerable political influence within the PLO, since no new elections have been held for the organization's legislative body, the PNC.
The PFLP developed contacts at this time with Islamic fundamentalist groups linked to Iran – both Palestinian Hamas, and the Lebanon-based Hizbullah – a detour from its avowedly Marxist orientation. The PLO's agreement with Israel in September 1993, and negotiations which followed, further isolated it from the umbrella organization and led it to conclude a formal alliance with the Iranian backed groups.
As a result of its post-Oslo weakness, the PFLP has been forced to adapt slowly and find partners among politically active, preferably young, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, in order to compensate for their dependence on their aging commanders returning from or remaining in exile. The PFLP has therefore formed alliances with other leftist groups formed within the Palestinian Authority, including the Palestinian People's Party and the Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza.
In 1990, the PFLP transformed its Jordan branch into a separate political party, the Jordanian Popular Democratic Unity Party. From its foundation the PFLP sought superpower patrons, early on developing ties with the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and, at various times, with regional powers such as Syria, South Yemen, Libya, North Korea, and Iraq, as well as with left-wing groups around the world, including the FARC and the Japanese Red Army. When that support diminished or stopped, in the late 1980s and 1990s, the PFLP sought new allies and developed contacts with Islamist groups linked to Iran, despite the PFLP's strong adherence to secularism and anti-clericalism. The relationship between the PFLP and the Islamic Republic of Iran has fluctuated – it strengthened as a result of Hamas moving away from Iran due to differing positions on the Syrian Civil War. Iran rewarded the PFLP for its pro-Assad stance with an increase in financial and military assistance. The PFLP has been accused by Israel of diverting European humanitarian aid from Palestinian NGOs to itself.
Following the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, the PFLP entered discussions with the DFLP and the Palestinian People's Party aimed at nominating a joint left-wing candidate for the Palestinian presidential election to be held on 9 January 2005. These discussions were unsuccessful, so the PFLP decided to support the independent Palestinian National Initiative's candidate Mustafa Barghouti, who gained 19.48% of the vote.
In the municipal elections of December 2005 it had more success, e.g. in al-Bireh and Ramallah, and winning the mayorship of Bir Zeit. There are conflicting reports about the political allegiance of Janet Mikhail and Victor Batarseh, the mayors of Ramallah and Bethlehem; they may be close to the PFLP without being members.[according to whom?]
The PFLP is[timeframe?] powerful politically in the Ramallah area, the eastern districts and suburbs of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the primarily Christian Refidyeh district of Nablus, but has far less strength in the rest of the West Bank, and is of little or no threat to the established Hamas and Fatah movements in Gaza.
The PFLP participated in the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006 as the "Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa List". It won 4.2% of the popular vote, winning three of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Its deputies are Ahmad Sa'adat, Jamil Majdalawi, and Khalida Jarrar. In the lists, its best vote was 9.4% in Bethlehem, followed by 6.6% in Ramallah and al-Bireh, and 6.5% in North Gaza. Sa'adat was sentenced in December 2006 to 30 years in an Israeli prison.
At the PFLP's Sixth National Conference in 2000, Habash stepped down as General Secretary. Abu Ali Mustafa was elected to replace him, but was assassinated on 27 August 2001 when an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
After Mustafa's death, the Central Committee of the PFLP on 3 October 2001 elected Ahmad Sa'adat as General Secretary. He has held that position, though since 2002 he has been incarcerated in Palestinian and Israeli prisons.
When it was formed in the late 1960s the PFLP supported the established line of most Palestinian guerrilla fronts and ruled out any negotiated settlement with Israel that would result in two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, George Habash in particular, and various other leaders in general advocated one state with an Arab identity in which Jews were entitled to live with the same rights as any minority. The PFLP declared that its goal was to "create a people's democratic Palestine, where Arabs and Jews would live without discrimination, a state without classes and national oppression, a state which allows Arabs and Jews to develop their national culture."
The PFLP platform never compromised on key points such as the overthrow of conservative or monarchist Arab states like Morocco and Jordan, the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees to their homes in pre-1948 Palestine, or the use of the liberation of Palestine as a launching board[colloquialism] for achieving Arab unity – reflecting its beginnings in the Pan-Arab ANM. It opposed the Oslo Accords and was for a long time opposed to the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, but in 1999 came to an agreement with the PLO leadership regarding negotiations with the Israeli government. However, in May 2010, PFLP general secretary Ahmad Sa'adat called for an end to the PLO's negotiations with Israel, saying that only a one-state solution was possible.
In January 2011, the PFLP declared that the Camp David Accords stood for "subservience, submission, dictatorship and silence", and called for social and political revolution in Egypt.
In December 2013, the PFLP stated: "Hamas is a vital part of the Palestinian national movement, and this is the position of the PFLP."
The PFLP gained notoriety in the late 1960s and early 1970s for a series of armed attacks and aircraft hijackings, including on non-Israeli targets:
The PFLP's Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades has carried out attacks on both civilians and military targets during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Some of these attacks are: