This Calm Will Not Last

AMMAN, Nov 4 (IPS) – Leila Khaled became an instant icon of the Palestinian struggle in 1969, when at 24 she was an operative in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacking of a Boeing 707, the first in a series of high-profile actions intended to put the Palestinians on the political map.

She was in a group that hijacked a TWA flight from Rome to Athens in 1969. No one was injured in the hijacking, but the plane was blown up later. She was then involved in a hijack attempt of an El Al flight the following year, but was caught and handed over to the British police after the flight from Amsterdam to New York was diverted to London. She was released later in a prisoner exchange.

A "guerrilla heroine," as Time magazine would call her in 1970, Khaled was driven from her home in Haifa during the creation of Israel. She has remained a prominent leader on the Palestinian left, and a determined spokesperson in the ongoing struggle for Palestinian rights. She spoke to IPS from her home in Amman.

IPS: Maybe we can begin with the Goldstone Report on the Gaza invasion and in particular the political fallout from (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas’s role in delaying debate on the report in Geneva.

Leila Khaled: We have declared that it was a political mistake – a big one. It’s not just a tactical mistake.

We’ve asked for a full investigation. Who gave the orders to postpone the debate?

This is a United Nations report. It took months to finalise. It should be directly accepted by us, because it is denouncing the invasion and all the acts that resulted – to the extent that Israel should be taken to the International Criminal Court to charge the war criminals, whether on the political level or the military level.

IPS: What’s your reaction to the Gaza invasion in general?

LK: It’s not new. This is not the first time. But now there is an opportunity for us to charge the war criminals.

IPS: In terms of the conflict between Fatah and Hamas, what’s your response to what happened in Gaza in 2007, but also to what has been going on since in the West Bank under (caretaker Prime Minister Salam) Fayyad and Abbas.

LK: This is a very serious situation, because Palestinians are still under occupation. Our people are under siege in Gaza. In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have (sovereignty), whether on the land or the borders. The Israelis are still confiscating lands, they demolish houses, they arrest people at any time and in any place.

To have division among Palestinians, politically speaking, it affects our ability to face all these challenges from the Israelis. We and others are calling for reconciliation between these two factions because it is not in the interests of our people. It has weakened the Palestinians (vis-à-vis) Israel, and also weakened solidarity with Palestinian human rights on the international level.

We see it as a catastrophe.

IPS: Do you think the election of Hamas in 2006 gave it legitimacy to rule that was being challenged in Gaza by Abbas and (senior Fatah official Muhammad) Dahlan and the Israeli project to overthrow them? Both sides accuse the other of a coup. How do you see it?

LK: We don’t think Hamas has used its legitimacy in the right way. They got a majority in the elections, but they shouldn’t have gone to the extent of solving the contradictions between them and Fatah with the use of arms.

It didn’t bring anything better to the Palestinians. Gaza is still under siege. Meanwhile, they have left the Palestinian Authority to do what they wanted in the West Bank.

They could have used dialogue and more discussion about the different issues, negotiations. This will show the society that we are democratic people. In our history we always had different ideas and different visions, but we never (resorted) to arms.

The main contradiction is with occupation, not among us.

IPS: U.S. General Keith Dayton is training a Palestinian security force which is openly targeting Hamas, but it’s also targeting the Popular Front. How do you see the above contradictions in light of this?

LK: The Dayton plan builds an apparatus not to defend our people, but to prevent our people from the resistance. Which means not only training, but also facing the resistance cells – all factions, not only Hamas. Meanwhile, every day Israel is entering any city, arresting people, assassinating them.

Instead, the Palestinian Authority (should) strengthen those that are ready for resistance. Unfortunately this is one of the main contradictions on the Palestinian level: the Palestinian Authority, whether in government, or the security apparatus or the police, are built in the Dayton vision, and not for the benefit of our people.

IPS: How then do you see the next intifadah shaping up? With the wall encircling Palestinian communities, with the security forces trained by Dayton, many people in the West Bank are seeing that any kind of resistance to Israel is buffered by this project. Is this setting up a paradigm where the next intifadah is against the Palestinian Authority?

LK: Any intifadah should have its objective reasons. The situation is not ripe enough for a third intifadah, with all this pressure against our people, whether from the Palestinian side or from the Israeli side.

People have found that after the first and second intifadah, they sacrificed a lot, with their families, houses, children, whether they are martyrs or prisoners. We have now around 11,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. Behind them there are 11,000 families.

I think first of all, we have to end this division. It will give more power to our people. We have seen at the time of the invasion of Gaza, the (demonstrations) were stopped by the Palestinian police and not the Israeli police.

Still, I think an intifadah is not near.

IPS: Where is the Popular Front, specifically and the left in general, on the scene right now, particularly in the division with Hamas and Fatah? The left is clearly at one of its lowest points in the history of the national movement.

LK: I think that the Oslo Accords was a turning point in the Palestinian struggle. A part of our people in Palestine supported negotiations with the Israelis. They thought it would bring them independence, it would bring them a national state. But after years (of achieving nothing), people realised it wasn’t for their good. That’s why the second intifadah broke out.

The left was affected by what happened, and it is weakened by its division. We’ve been trying for years to have the left as one front, not as one party but as a front with a (unified) political and resistance programme.

We feel that if we succeed it will create a third line. In the media, we only hear about Fatah and Hamas, but in fact it is not like that. This weakens the whole situation.

Specifically, the Popular Front has faced many challenges. Our general secretary, Abu Ali Mustafa, was assassinated. Ahmed Sa’adat is in prison. Many of our cadres have been arrested. Many have been killed by the Israelis. We have hundreds of our cadre and members in prison. This will weaken the Popular Front.

IPS: I spoke with general secretary Ahmed Sa’adat in 2003 about this question. He spoke about Israel using the intifadah to focus immediately on the PFLP, to break the organisation’s back with assassination and arrests. Both because it saw the PFLP as a historical threat, but also because it had been weakened so significantly by the political climate throughout the 1990s – both locally and globally.

LK: Abu Ali Mustafa was assassinated because he immediately declared that (the PFLP) was here to resist and not to compromise our rights. This the Israelis understood very well. It was the first time the Israelis assassinated a personality on the political level like Abu Ali Mustafa.

Israel knew very well that the PFLP was in a position to resist. That it has its resistance programme which means they are not going to go for negotiations. They know that by either assassinating or putting the leadership in jail it will weaken the PFLP, and it did. But we could also go on rebuilding ourselves, and still we have a lot to do.

But the general situation is also not with the resistance – on the Palestinian level, (but especially) on the Arab level. This weakens the whole situation, not just the Popular Front.

IPS: I wonder if we can talk a bit about the trajectory of the Palestinian armed struggle: what are the possibilities and limits for armed struggle within the confines of the wall, and the new ghetto paradigm?

LK: In general, people always find the means of resistance. After 1967, we were using hijackings. Then our people used stones to express their resistance, then what is called suicide bombers, which have stopped. Then the use of rockets from Gaza, because the Israelis left and there were (new spaces opened up), while in the West Bank it is silenced.

You have used the term ghettoes – yes, our cities are like ghettoes now. They are surrounded by settlements, the wall, at all the gates to the cities we have checkpoints.

But people will find the means of their resistance in ways that I myself cannot think of. Nobody thought of intifadah of the stones: that children would use them also. It caused a lot of criticism to Israel and more solidarity for the Palestinians.

So, by all means. Where there is occupation, there is always resistance. This resistance every time has its own shape and its own means. I think this situation (of calm) will not last. Our people have a very long experience in struggle and cannot accept that this situation will go on. One day it will break out again. In what way, I cannot say. But it will come. (END/2009)

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