PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine)

The PFLP is a radical Palestinian faction of the PLO which belongs to the Rejectionist Front (ie. those who reject the peace process). This faction originally stemmed from the Arab Nationalists’ Movement ANM, created in Beirut by two students, one a Palestinian refugee, George Habash, the other a Syrian who had volunteered in the Arab expedition corps in Palestine in 1948. The pan-Arab movement ANM no longer existed after the Arab defeat of 1967.

Earlier in 1964, reacting to the creation of the PLO that same year, the Palestinian branch of the ANM set itself up as an autonomous group under the name of « National Front for the Liberation of Palestine » which carried out several actions against Israeli territory starting in November 1964. At the end of 1967, the group changed its name and became known as the « Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine ».

Once established in Jordan alongside other fedayin organizations, the PFLP grew very active in the field and became known internationally through various terrorist actions such as airplane highjackings. Weakened in February 1969 by the split led by Nayef Hawatmah, the PFLP still managed to hold onto its provocative role in the Hashemite Kingdom calling for an overthrow of the regime involving the PLO in the September 1970 confrontation which led to the elimination of the Palestinian resistance in Jordan.

After this defeat the PFLP changed its approach. In 1972 it decided to forgo « external operations » choosing to concentrate on striking in Israel and the Occupied Territories, without distinguishing, however, between civilian and military objectives. Adopting a Marxist-Leninist ideology the PFLP broke with its more extremist members. After 1973, the PFLP holds a central position in the opposition to the new moderate attitude of the PLO. Following the signing of the Camp David Agreements, Palestinian unity was reestablished, but the PFLP pulled out of the Executive Committee in 1974 rejoining it only seven years later in 1981. The differences between the PFLP and the Fatah remained great, with the Lebanon war in 1982 exacerbating them.

Once again the PFLP found itself at the centre of an anti-Arafat coalition with the Damascus based Palestinian dissidents, opposing both negotiations with Jordan and the Fes Plan. However, it refused to form a « Parallel PLO » which would only have weakened the Palestinian cause. The PFLP remains one of the major forces within the PLO, and even if George Habash abstained during crucial votes at the 18th PNC held in Algiers in November 1988, the PFLP still supports the decisions that were democratically adopted on that occasion.

The Madrid Conference and the Oslo process marginalised the PFLP like most Palestinian factions.

Ranking second only after the Fatah, the PFLP nevertheless remains influential in the refugee camps.

A reconciliation of the PFLP – together with the DFLP – with Arafat and the Fatah took place in Cairo in August 1999 at the eve of the start of the negociations on the Palestinian territories final status. The PFLP was represented by its then deputy head Abu Ali Mustafa (born Mustafa Zibri) and five other party members (George Habash refused to meet with Arafat).

In April 2000, George Habash resigned from his post, emphasizing nevertheless that he’d remain politically active. The party thus elected Abu Ali Mustafa as its new leader. In September 1999 Abu Ali Mustapha had returned from exile to the Palestinian-ruled territories and settled in Ramallah nevertheless stressing that his group would continue to oppose the peace talks because Palestinians were not getting a fair deal. PFLP has been active during the 2nd intifada and has carried out several attacks against Israel and Israeli settlements. On September 27, Abu Ali Mustapha was assassinated by the Israeli military forces, and was the highest ranking PLO official to be the victim of Israel’s assassination policy since 1987 when Abu Jihad was hit in Tunisia. Arafat declared 3 days of national mourning for Abu Ali Mustafa and thousands of Palestinians attended his funeral. It is not yet clear who will replace him at the head of the PFLP.

On 18 October 2001, a PFLP gunman murdered the right-wing Israeli Minister of Tourism, Rehavam Zeevi, in revenge for the Israeli killing of Abu Ali Mustafa. It was the first murder of an Israeli minister by a Palestinian group.