Disagreements in the Palestinian leadership have started affecting the factions within the ruling Palestinian Liberation Organization. Tensions between PLO’s leading faction, Fatah, and especially President Mahmoud Abbas, and the second-largest PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), are now in the open.
The PFLP, a left-wing movement, has for years been a thorn in the side of Fatah, both under late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Abbas. However, the two factions have tolerated each other and shared common ground — until now.
Following the recent tensions, Abbas has ordered the suspension of the movement's monthly stipend, due to its leaders' much harsher than usual anti-Abbas positions. In response, anti-Abbas demonstrations were held April 12 by PFLP supporters in the Gaza Strip, during which the photo of the Palestinian president was burned.
The conflict between Abbas and the PFLP is a result of a series of decisions and statements by Abbas, which included the Palestinian participation in the funeral of a senior Israeli civil administration official March 25 and an interview on Israel TV that was seen as an appeasement to the Israelis. On Feb. 26, there was the mysterious death of Omar Nayef Zayed, a PFLP operative who died inside the Palestinian Embassy in Bulgaria.
PFLP officials held talks and issued a statement April 3, saying that Abbas had crossed red lines. PFLP political bureau member Rabah Muhana called on Abbas to resign for deviating from “what is acceptable” for a national leader.
Kayed al-Ghul, a Gaza-based PFLP leader, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian National Fund has stopped paying the monthly stipend to the movement. He said, “The February and March fund transfers have not been made, apparently following a verbal request by Abbas to Ramzi Khoury, the head of the Palestinian National Fund.”
Ghul said that while it is not the first time that this has happened, it does reflect a retraction in relations. “This is a sign by Abbas to dominate all decision-making even though the fund transfer issue was mandated by the Palestinian National Council [PNC].”
The funds, which are said to be around $80,000 a month, are to cover the salaries of the movement’s cadres and other administrative costs such as rent for offices, publications and transportation expenses.
Ghul said that the Palestinian national and Islamic factions issued a statement April 11 in support of the PFLP’s position. He told Al-Monitor by phone from Gaza, “In addition to the monopoly over financial decisions, we have been seeing similar attempts by the president to make national decisions such as the Arab League’s labeling Hezbollah ‘a terrorist organization’ and an approval without consultation of the French plans.”
Hamdeh Faraneh, a member of the PNC, told Al-Monitor that suspending the funds is not acceptable. He said, “It is not acceptable to cut off financial support to well-respected national factions such as the [PFLP].”
For his part, a senior PFLP official in Amman told Al-Monitor that the transfer of funds to the movement has varied between $80,000 and $120,000 per month over the years, and that it had been $85,000 recently. The source, who preferred not to be identified for security reasons, said that it was not the first time that the chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee had resorted to financial pressures.
He said, “Both Abbas and before him Arafat have tried this method many times. Yet they must know that the PFLP will not yield to this kind of pressure.” The source explained that his faction has put some funds aside for emergencies, and that the issue will be raised in the next meeting of the PLO Executive Committee, of which the organization is a permanent member.
Abdel Rahim Mallouh, who was the acting director of the PLO and who resigned as a representative of the PFLP in 2010, has only nominally represented the organization, since a replacement has not yet been elected. Yet, Omar Shehadeh often represents the organization at the meetings of the Executive Committee.
Since the resignation in 2000 of PFLP's founder George Habash, who passed away in 2008, the movement has witnessed various leadership challenges. Abu Ali Mustafa, Habash's successor, was assassinated by Israel in August 2001. Mustafa’s deputy Ahmed Sadaat took over the leadership position, but he was accused of having planned the revenge for the killing of Mustafa, by ordering the killing of Israeli Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001. Sadaat is currently serving a 30-year sentence in Israel.
Khalida Jarrar, a senior PFLP supporter and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was sentenced in December 2015 to 15 months in prison on charges that included attending public forums. Its Central Council rather than an individual leader leads the organization, which is under constant threat from the Israelis.
Palestinian internal politics appears to be deteriorating on all fronts. However, Fatah and its leader Abbas can’t afford to alienate a secular national movement such as the PFLP. This attempt to influence the movement through economic pressure is unlikely to produce any major changes in its political posturing. The sooner that this issue is resolved, the better it is for Abbas to solve his much more intractable problems within his own movement and with Hamas, his main political adversary.
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