The following dialogue was conducted for this website with Comrade Khalil Maqdesi by Comrade Rayya Amin on October 17, 2008. Comrade Maqdesi covers a broad range of critical topics, from the legacy of October 17, to the Palestinian resistance, to the future of Palestinian national unity in an era of “negotiations” and “security cooperation,” in this wide-ranging and penetrating discussion of the important issues facing the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian national liberation movement today.
Rayya Amin: Today marks the seventh anniversary of the October 17 heroic operation against the racist Zionist tourism minister, Rehavam Ze’evi, in response to the assassination of General Secretary Abu Ali Mustafa by a U.S.-made missile fired from a helicopter into his office by the occupation army. Several days ago, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades made statements about the current situation, where Palestinians in Akka are facing an ongoing assault from racist Zionists, and standing steadfast in the face of house burnings, stonings, beatings and repeated calls for their “transfer” – invoking al-Nakba, as well as Ze’evi’s infamous campaigns. The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades statement particularly noted the responsibility of Avigdor Lieberman, an infamous advocate of transfer and notorious racist, and warned that if these events do not stop, Lieberman will face the same fate as Ze’evi. This statement – paying tribute to the resistance and steadfastness of our people in our occupied homeland of 1948 – also made clear the unity of all of our people, and that the operation of October 17 was not an isolated heroic act but part of an ongoing and historic struggle. On this anniversary, how do you envision our struggle today?
Khalil Maqdesi: Our understanding, in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, of our enemy and of our conflict with this enemy, Israel, is very clear. We view Israel as a colonial settler project/state backed and fully supported by imperialist powers, particularly the United States. This state is illegitimate and will always be illegitimate, as it has been based on the oppression and suffering of our people for the past sixty years. The PFLP cannot see any reconciliation or acceptance of this state, of any acceptance of racism, colonialism, Zionism and the settler project in Palestine.
We also do not view the situation as a Palestinian – Israeli conflict only, although this is central. It is also an Arab – Israeli conflict, and international conflict. Take, for example, the relationship of Iran or Venezuela with Israel; it is an international conflict. Israel belongs to one camp – the camp of imperialism – against all progressive forces in the world and against all forces who resist imperialism. Israel is waging war against all Arab nations – its aggression has reached the shores of Tunisia. There is not one Arab country that has not faced the onslaught of Zionist aggression, directly or indirectly, over the years. The fact that Arab reactionary regimes, particularly those in Egypt an Jordan, have engaged in ‘peace agreements’ and the like, the fact that these reactionary regimes have attempted to impose normalization with this illegitimate state upon our people, does nothing to change the fundamental nature of the relationship between the Arab people and the colonial settler project. These regimes are illegitimate and unelected and do not speak for the people.
On the other hand, we see another example that does represent our people. We can see clearly, on the ground, that resistance works. We saw that in Lebanon, we are seeing that in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Palestine. Resistance works. Submission to Israeli and American conditions, on the other hand, while fooling oneself under an illusion of peace, is a road to nowhere. We have seen this throughout the past fifteen years of the so-called “peace process” of Oslo and beyond, that this is a dead-end road for our people and our cause.
Rayya Amin: This is an important point that you mention. Recently we have been seeing a lot of articles and really, propaganda from the Zionist press, aimed at demoralizing the resistance by promoting the industry of “security cooperation” between Palestinian forces and the Zionist state. These articles have been really disgusting, with Palestinian “security” commanders arranging for funding, arms, and training from U.S. CIA and similar entities and the occupation army. It’s really difficult to see this as anything other than an attempt to forcibly push our people down this fruitless path of a so-called “peace process” and turn Palestinians into the front-line forces suppressing the resistance of our own people.
Khalil Maqdesi: First of all, this security cooperation is met with mass popular condemnation by our people in Palestine and in exile. It was one of the major objects of the Oslo accords – to turn Palestinian forces into guards for the occupation. Furthermore, it enhances and deepens the disunity in Palestinian society and raises the level of military oppression and aggression by the police forces against the resistance. We have seen the actions of the security forces against journalists, writers, trade unionists and other popular activists, and we have witnessed executions like that last week in Jericho prison. We in the PFLP have warned in the path that the road of this so-called “security cooperation” will lead to the authority becoming a tool in the hands of occupation. Those who supported Oslo argued otherwise, saying that this is a necessary step towards building a Palestinian state. We saw otherwise – this is not building a Palestinian state and is in fact contrary to democratic process and values and has racked up countless violations against our people.
It deceives and transmits a false message about the relationship of the Palestinian people with Israel and with these forces, as if there is some form of sovereignty or a Palestinian state. These police operate at the permission and pleasure of the occupation and receive permission in order to attack Palestinians. Some of these forces in the leadership of the security forces are quite clearly collaborators with the occupation, when they receive arms, funds and training from the occupier, they are collaborators akin to the South Lebanon Army, to UNITA in Angola, to the Contras in Nicaragua. There is always an attempt to create a local tool by the colonizers for their work.
This is also part of the so-called “war on terror” being waged by U.S. imperialism, and an attempt to bring a Palestinian force into this regional “war,” in direct confrontation with the Palestinian resistance.
We have also seen a transformation of our cause into “security” questions. Political and civil issues have been handled by Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli intelligence services – not by civil or political institutions, including our national dialogue. They want to turn the question of Palestine into a “security issue,” something that clearly and definitely serves the strategic goals of Israel and the United States.
Rayya Amin: Also, the security cooperation and the arming and training of this collaborator force by the U.S. and Israel is very much clearly part of the plans of these parties to divide our people and create disunity. The operation of these “security cooperation” forces does nothing to provide security for Palestinians – that would be providing security against the occupier, not working with the occupier against our people and our resistanc. The attempts to transform our national cause into a question of “security” and the institutions of “security” and “authority” rather than institutions of a national liberation movement can do nothing but cause division and undermine the fundamental framework of our national cause and national unity, that is based on our unity in struggle against the occupier.
Khalil Maqdesi: It is worth noting here, also, however, one of the false illusions about the past before the Oslo era – the idea that the Palestinian national liberation movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization were democratic institutions. In fact, they were not, and because of that, we have come to Oslo. The reason we are here is because of our past, because of things that have come before and policies that were conducted in the past. It is also worthwhile to state that there are no clean hands in this past, in terms of democracy, and we must learn these lessons moving forward.
The tools that have come before Oslo have led to this point, and we must be honest about that. Abu Mazen, Abu Ala’a, these forces who signed Oslo – are those that corrupted the PLO. There is no democratic process of building an authority under occupation. The alternative, however, is to rebuild our institutions not as authorities in league with the occupation, but to reclaim the potential of the PLO as the representative and unifying structure for our people, our cause, our national liberation movement.
Rayya Amin: Speaking of the PLO, the PLO at its best has always stood as a symbol of national unity and national consensus of the Palestinian people. Today, however, we are looking back on 15 years of Oslo, following a campaign to replace the PLO with an authority that exists in cooperation with the occupation and whose institutions have been decimated, and yet does not embrace the spectrum of the forces that comprise our national liberation movement. We’ve seen agreements, like the Cairo Declaration, to rebuild the PLO and make it inclusive, but the real division has only worsened since then. How can we revitalize and rebuild the PLO, and where are we going in the campaign to reassert our national unity?
Khalil Maqdesi: We must end the Oslo process in its entirety. We in the PFLP see that there is a direct connection between the continuation of the negotiations and Palestinian internal disunity. We have also seen the Palestinian leadership of the PA undermining the PLO itself and attempts to fragment the Palestinian people itself, people in the West Bank from Gaza from our people in exile from our people in 48.
Our national unity must be based on our national constants only. For example when Abu Mazen declared to the media his willingness to undermine our fundamental right to return, this only deepens the disunity. We also see that building national unity requires real political will not only on the part of the factions but also popular institutions to take their place and uphold their responsibilities to build national unity from the streets and the grassroots up. when people are confronting their enemy and building their society from the ground up, their institutions and their economic autonomy, national unity is strengthened. There is a clear and honorable example of Palestinian national unity in the prisons of the occupation. Despite all of the attempts of the occupation to fracture the Palestinian prisoners, they have failed and the prisoners are a shining example of national unity in action in confrontation of the occupation.
It is also important that national unity be in the interests of the popular classes of our Palestinian people – against all exploitation and oppression. National unity does not just mean unity of the political forces, but must involve and include all sectors of society – students, women, trade unionists. We cannot discuss national unity without a real discussion of the sectors of our society, their institutions, and the importance of strengthening the relationships and joint programs of struggle against the occupation and the liquidation of the Palestinian cause. This strengthens national unity on the ground.
RA: This is a really essential point. The reason national unity has been under attack by Israel and the United States is because it is so important for our people. The U.S., Israel, the so-called “Quartet”, try to redefine our national unity with conditions and terms that are based on a Palestinian identity that is acceptable to the enemy, and actually present only a path to disunity and division. There is no national unity to be found in these conditions imposed from outside. The point you raise, on the other hand, that national unity is among our people, and it is against the occupation rather than in accordance to its terms – is the only path to meaningful national unity, rather than empty phrases.
KM: National unity is a strategic necessity for victory. The enemy is pushing to create multiple Palestinian discourses, for the benefit of Israel.
National unity is not also a vague slogan, without meaning or implementation. Inside our institutions, schools, and organizations, it has to be a culture that political parties push for and enhance, rather than undermine. This is something we have to build within Palestine and also in exile, among our people and our national institutions – it is our responsibility as political parties.
RA: It is worth noting that national unity is not Palestinian Authority unity, it is Palestinian national unity. These are 2 different things.
So often the discussion of Palestinian national unity is directed as if the question is how to arrange the seats or cabinet members of the Authority, but this does little to address the real question of national unity in our struggle. I want to raise the question – how do you see the dialogue in cairo as being part of building national unity? How is it something other than just another pointless charade?
KM: Yes, we have always called for a comprehensive national dialogue. We have an understanding of this dialogue. First of all, it must come without preconditions, and it must address the real issues – the question of strengthening the Palestinian resistance, Palestinian intitutions, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinian National Council, the rebuilding of our mass organizations and unions, and dealing politically with the challenges that we face today – the Wall in the West Bank, the siege on Gaza, the struggle for freedom of 11000 Palestinian prisoners, the settlements, the attacks on our people in 48, the attempts to liquidate the right of return. These are all issues of common struggle that we must face collectively. We must also face that the alternative to this comprehensive, open dialogue is division and nothing else. We have seen that the agreement between Fateh and Hamas which took place in Mecca failed miserably because it was not based on national assurance and popular assurance but rather merely on dividing seats and assigning positions.
We must also be patient and acknowledge that, like all nations, we have different political views among our people, within our national consensus. Not all division and discussion or disagreement or contradiction is negative. On the contrary, our national institutions can be a democratic place where these issues are addressed and resolved in a progressive and democratic manner as part of our revolution.
RA: Looking at my bookshelf, I see books published by the Palestine Research Center – by the PLO – in the 1970s, highlighting the various positions of the resistance, of the factions, of the sectors of the revolution. This was not unhealthy or divisive. On the contrary, it reflected a vibrant revolutionary discourse and a living movement. I think it is critical that we look toward examining this in a positive light and look at national unity as unity on our core principles, firm adherence to our national rights, unity in our resistance and in confrontation of the occupation, but that includes as a necessary condition ongoing political discussion and struggle. That is a healthy part of a revolutionary movement. It is the opposite of this bickering over positions and authority that has done so much harm to our people.
KM: In the past, when this rose to the level of armed disagreement, it was known as “the dialogue with guns,” and it came to an end, it was stopped, because our people demanded it. Now, our people – our institutions, popular organizations, civil society – must be heard very loudly and very clearly, from the level of the streets and the grassroots up, demanding meaningful national unity and an end to the division. This is the mechanism that can truly bring this division to a much-needed end.
RA: The General Secretary, Abu Ghassan (Ahmad Sa’adat), is currently continuing to face the occupation courts. It should be noted that Abu Ghassan’s case also is deeply and directly related to these issues – he was a prisoner of the Palestinian Authority for years, before he was kidnapped by the occupation forces. The occupation illegitimate courts have postponed his trial yet again, this time to November 25, and it is clear that they want to keep dragging this out for as extended a time as possible. There have been a number of events around the world – in Syria, in Canada and elsewhere – focusing on his case, and these are very important initiatives.
KM: Well, I think one of the things that needs to be said about Abu Ghassan’s case is that obviously the occupation wishes to continue this case forever. It is a battle between the General Secretary and the illegitimate courts. They are trying to pressure Comrade Ahmad on a personal level as well as to pressure the PFLP, denying him family visits, transferring him, holding him in isolation and solitary confinement, for example. The very first thing we must understand that he is a hostage and must be liberated. The prisoners are 11,000 hostages and the occupation is seeking to use them to pressure our people everywhere, to try to extract concessions in order to free these hostages.
The conditions of the prisoners and of the national leadership among the prisoners are really quite harrowing, and the daily oppression directed against the prisoners has been continually increasing. We’ve seen them trying to force Guantanamo clothing – the infamous orange jumpsuits – upon our prisoners, and Abu Ghassan has played a leading role, in the prisoners’ rejection of this. Abu Ghassan’s case symbolizes the war against the resistance and the entire Palestinian people, while the international community is silent.
RA: They are worse than silent. The U.S. and Britain are directly culpable for his imprisonment – they guarded his illegal imprisonment for four years, and arranged in advance to vacate their posts to allow for his kidnapping in the attack on Jericho prison by the occupation forces.
KM: Every time they take him to the court, he refuses to recognize it and its illegitimate nature, but instead uses it as a soapbox to call for upholding our Palestinian constants and the brotherhood and sisterhood of all of our people, and for our national unity. His clarity exposes the occupation and its crimes and the failure of its policies and the entire Zionist project in Palestine, and upholds the achievements of the Intifada. They are continually restricting his personal situation so that even his wife and children cannot visit him – they have been continually denied visits since March. They want to pressure him and silence this vital, symbolic and critical voice. The only link he has to the outside world is through his attorneys.
His steadfastness is a symbol of all Palestinian prisoners and, it is worth noting that he is a leader among the prisoners as well. He has always been a leader in the prisoner movement, in his past experiences in prison, and now he plays a major role in the struggle inside the prisons.
RA: You raise an important point about Abu Ghassan’s speeches before the court – you mention the achievements of the Intifada, this second Intifada. There are many who degrade this intifada, and say it has failed, or accomplished little to nothing, or even harmed our people and our cause, and it is quite refreshing to hear, instead, about upholding the achievements of the intifada, particularly when it has become a trend to dismiss this intifada rather than to celebrate it.
KM: The first achievement of this Intifada is that it proved, conclusively, the utter failure of the Oslo process. It exposed the bankruptcy of the “peace process” and made clear that it has been nothing more than a charade based on the continuing abrogation of Palestinian national rights. It made clear that our core rights – our right to return, our right to self-determination, our right to be free of occupation – were nowhere to be found in the Oslo process, and that our people were not willing to accept this and will continue to demand these rights until victory.
It is also key to note that this intifada strengthened the military resistance inside Palestine in such a way as has never been seen before, which is an enormous accomplishment of our people and our resistance.
Furthermore, this Intifada put Israel in the position of being forced to constantly confront the issue of the nature of the Israeli state and raised these critical questions: What is the nature of Israel, its racist, colonial, illegitimate nature? How can there be any solution in the face of this racist state? How can such a state exist? And it faces these questions and this discourse now, because of the resistance and steadfastness of the Palestinian people in this Intifada, in the face of this aggression. This intifada has made quite clear two sides of the equation – Palestinian steadfastness and suffering and Israeli occupation and oppression. Both point to the fundamental issue of what is Israel. This intifada has exposed this question of the world, raised it among intellectuals and in the academy. The emergence of this discourse that challenges the Zionist project and its illegitimacy in our homeland, the reason this is a topic of debate and discussion now, is because of the achievements of the Intifada and the sacrifices of our people.
RA: There is now an attempt almost to set the clock back, and to erase the last eight years, to instead speak of a path of endless “negotiations” leading nowhere, of “final status agreements” and a “peace process” that seems to have no connection to reality. Even the “security cooperation” harkens back to the conditions of Oslo, and the implementation of the so-called “Roadmap” designed by the U.S. – only, of course, against our Palestinian people. –
KM: Israel is given a green light – all of what it did, its crimes against our people, are ignored, and it acts as if it is a “peace partner” while building settlements, arresting and killing our people and engaging in a daily siege and occupation. The process of security cooperation goes hand in hand with the negotiations – one cannot be separated from the other, as the whole intention of the “peace process” is to find a Palestinian governance to act on behalf of the occupier.
In fact, Israel has practiced U.S. policy on a regional scale throughout the Intifada, from the slogan of “harboring terrorism” to the assassination of the first ranks of the leadership of our people – from Yasser Arafat, to Abu Ali Mustafa, to Sheikh Yassin, to Fathi Shiqaqi and hundreds of others. The Palestinian leadership cannot blame the intifada for their failures – when they blame the intifada, they are actually blaming the people. When Abu Mazen, or the PA leadership, or the Fayyad regime blames the intifada, they blame the people, the martyrs, and the prisoners. Indeed, they have shown little concern for the prisoners other than as yet another issue in the so-called “negotiations.” It is worth pointing out that the Authority created this situation for Abu Ghassan when they imprisoned him in Jericho and allowed him to be held under U.S. and British guards, and today – there is no statement of solidarity with him.
RA: It is adopting the argument of the occupation that the people are at fault for our own oppression because we continue to resist. And returning to the question of resistance, and highlighting the point that you have made about the war of assassinations against our people and particularly against the front ranks of our leadership, how do you assess today October 17 and its lessons?
KM: The lesson of October 17 is that the occupier must learn that for its actions, there will be consequences and repercussions. We are as Palestinians and in the Popular Front, to praise the heroic quality, strategic and skilled ability and will of our resistance, and the firmness of the decision-making and action by political leaders and the heroes of the Wadie Haddad Group who executed the operation, in which the infamous racist Zionist tourism minister and advocate of the “transfer” of our people, Rehavam Ze’evi, was killed by the arms and the awareness of fighters from the PFLP, coming in response to the assassination of our great leader Abu Ali Mustafa.
However, the official Palestinian leadership did not succeed in taking the message of October 17 – that there is no end to the assassinations of our leaders and our people carried out by the enemy forces, without just such strategic decisions that extract a high cost from the enemy but also require great steadfastness and political will on behalf of our leadership, who are subject to great risk. It is regrettable that the operation of October 17, though an act of valor, accuracy and accomplishment, ramians an orphan. We have not achieved the collective goal of the Palestinian resistance, in all of its visions and currents, in this long battle with a vicious and strong enemy.
We are discussing a mere act of a “culture of revenge.” Rather, we are discussing a concrete and strategic decision to make it clear to the enemy that there is a distinct price to be paid for the campaign of assassination and sixty years of crimes against our people, and that we will simply not allow this to continue without creating a situation in which it is very difficult for the occupier to continue its crimes.
It is no secret that the Front has and will make further attempts to liquidate such symbols of the Zionist enemy. Even attempts that are not fully successful exert pressure upon the enemy. However, for the Front to continue along this difficult path of struggle means that dealing with this in the resistance, the logic of force and deterrence, and utilizing October 17 as a model, must become a culture of all of the resistance forces, and not just a heroic tale of glory that speaks to our emotions. October 17 is a symbol of heroism, yes, but it is also a difficult yet necessary strategic action and path for our resistance. The enemy knows well that the conflict between it and the Front did not begin with the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, nor with October 17. There is no need for a narrative of confrontations, but only to point out that we will meet with this enemy only in the field of confrontation.
Everyone knows the lesson – that the liquidation of the personality is not nearly so important as the impact of the liquidation of the role of that individual and the school and the trend that he represents. Comrade Abu Ali Mustafa was well-known to the Zionist enemy for his positions, his commitment and his leadership in the Palestinian arena, and he was known to face the daily threat of assassination because of who and what he represented, stood for and lived. They killed him, and the Front responded by killing the one who represented the naked and ugly face of Zionist racism – the school and the trend of the occupier.
At the end, October 17 is a shining example – a star on the path of Palestinian resistance toward victory.