The interview below was conducted in 2010 by Mike Walker, at the time a co-ordinator of the NZ-based (but now defunct) PFLP Solidarity Campaign. While the interview is somewhat dated, especially with the current conflict in Syria, it is still worth reading. At Redline we see solidarity with the cause of Palestinian liberation as especially important. As secular revolutionary anti-capitalists, we particularly solidarise with the PFLP. We regularly carry PFLP statements on the blog and, as our very limited resources allow, organise public events around Palestine and help publicise the PFLP. See also, Mike’s article on New Zealand and the ‘terrorist’ designation ideological scam.
Mike Walker: Can you tell me about your role today within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian politics in general?
Leila Khaled: Now I am a PFLP Politburo member and I’m responsible for the files of the Committee of the Refugees and the Right for Return, which means that we have a programme and a plan to generalise and to mobilise our people with a Right for Return. Because now, and since years, the Israelis are trying to end the idea of the Right for Return. It’s neglecting and ignoring the Right of Return to the Palestinians to their homes. That’s why this is an important file that I am dealing with and I am responsible for it in the PFLP.
MW: In a recently leaked PLO document it shows that in December 2009 Mahmoud Abbas was ready to concede the right of return by allowing only 150,000 Palestinians to return over a 10 year period, leaving the remainder to rot in refugee camps or as unwelcome guests in neighbouring Arab states. What where your thoughts on this?
LK: No-one can prevent the right of the people, even though it is Mahmoud Abbas or any other official Palestinian. They cannot [replace] the right of return with their own vision. There is big opposition against that. The people, whether in diaspora or in the West Bank and Gaza, are against such declarations and against such an attitude, because the right of return is a personal, it’s a popular, it’s a legal right for human beings like the Palestinians who were driven by force from their homelands. And mind you Resolution 194 in the United Nations calls upon Israel to abide by the international law that which says in this resolution that Israel will be accepted as a member in the United Nations on condition that the Palestinians go back to their homelands and to their villages and to their properties that they were driven out of by force in 1948. So any official cannot, or has no right to change the right of return in his vision that some of the Palestinians could go back to Palestine.
And two days ago we had Salaam Fayyad, who is said to be the Prime Minister, because we don’t have a sovereignty over our land to have Prime Ministers or government or whatever it is. So there’s a big discussion now among the factions, among the people and their representatives in the PLO or everywhere, that they have no right to say that the right for return to the Palestinians is no longer a realistic issue and as long as the struggle is continuing, and this conflict is continuing, it means the key for the solution is the right for return. So it’s not his right to change this issue and this right according to their vision.
MW: In your book My People Shall Live you said that violent acts were intended to “Blow the wax out of the ears of deaf Western Liberals”. The plane hijacking and other violent tactics certainly got world attention focused on the Palestinian cause but would you agree that the wax is still firmly in the ears of Western liberals when it comes to Palestinian rights?
LK: I think that now there is no wax. They hear it, but still they don’t act according to what they hear. The problem is not the hearing. It’s the problem of, to be convinced that the Palestinians have the right to have their own independent state with Jerusalem its capital and that the Palestinians are under occupation. The Palestinians are still refugees in their country and in diaspora so it needs more and more struggle to convince not only, not the governments because we know that the governments are biased towards Israel. We are depending on the popular movement in different countries, especially the West, and we have noticed the escalation of the calls for Boycotting and Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
What do the West need more than a holocaust of the Palestinians in Gaza? What do the West need more than a resolution in the High Court of Justice in The Hague that the apartheid wall that Israel built in Palestine is illegal and the settlements are illegal? What do they need more as long as they have seen that Israel used all kinds of weapons of mass destruction in Gaza lately, to be convinced that the Palestinians need their freedom, they need their sovereignty over their land, they need support for their struggle because our struggle is a legal struggle and it’s a duty to our people and to us to struggle against occupation which is the most un-human action against peoples? That’s why I’m saying it’s not the wax in the ears of the West but it is that they are not convinced that they have to change their ideas. Anyhow we depend on people, on campaigns of solidarity from different people including parliamentarians and organisations, popular or grass roots, who are still calling for the support of the Palestinians.
MW: In 1974 the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) left the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to form the Rejectionist Front with other left groups in response to Fatah’s ‘ten point program’ that was deemed as the first step to the recognition of the state of Israel. This happened again when the PLO entered negotiations that culminated in the Oslo Accords, the PFLP this time joining/forming the Alliance of Palestinian Forces with both left secular groups and Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The PFLP is no longer a member of the Alliance of Palestinian Forces; can you give some insight into this decision to once again become active in the PLO when it continues to contradict one of the PFLP’s core principles of not negotiating with the enemy?
LK: The PFLP is part of the PLO, and the PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinians and the legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Now this is the institution where we can, as an opposition, struggle for the change of the attitude Fatah has and the leadership of the PLO now, this is from one side. From the other side we have many connections with Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad because these are part of the components of our society and organisations from our society and we don’t say that we don’t have anything to do with them or don’t have relations with them. We have relations with all factions, because we are in a stage, the liberation stage, and the rules that govern, or that give us the right to have relations with all factions including the Islamic factions. Because the main contradiction is with the Israeli occupation and not with the components of our society. That’s why we are still in the PLO because we are the founders of PLO, although we are not the main leadership of the PLO.
But still we are opposing the Oslo Accords; we are opposing the division that has taken place through using arms between Hamas and Fatah, we condemned using arms because since the beginning of the revolution after 1967 we have reached an agreement that any contradictions among the factions cannot be solved except by dialogue and by discussions and not by arms. Arms only used against the enemy. That’s why we are in a place where we are the same distance between the two factions, between Fatah and Hamas, but at the same time we have many common things that we can agree upon. For example the settlements, the wall, prisoners issues, issues dealing with the Israeli policy, although we are against negotiations. And lately we are, with others, against the indirect negotiations holding to the American suggestion to have indirect negotiations without stopping the settlements and we succeeded in doing that. Even Abbas couldn’t accept the indirect talks… he accepted at the beginning but he stopped because of the opposition. We are leading that opposition as the PFLP.
MW: Why, when Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas have consistently sold out the Palestinian cause to Israeli and Imperialist demands, do they still seemingly have popular support?
LK: I think that Mahmoud Abbas still has support but not to the extent to sell the Palestinian cause. We still hear criticism, high criticism now from different factions and from different personalities, also from unions criticising the attitude of Abbas, which means that he is losing his popularity since he was elected as the PA president. That’s why I think that, if he goes on with his policy towards negotiations, I think he will lose a lot.
MW: And Fatah?
LK: Of course, he is the chief of Fatah, and Fatah will lose first from its numbers from the bases of Fatah, because the bases of Fatah, up till now they are with the resistance, not against it. But because of the situation in the West Bank between the Israelis and the security apparatus of Abbas, people reach to a point where they cannot do what they want to do because either they will be arrested by the Palestinian apparatus or by the Israelis. Which means that they are squeezing even the people to express their attitude. But when it came to settlements or building, destroying the houses in Jerusalem, we have witnessed that people will come out declaring their attitude in Hebron, in Jerusalem, in Nablus, in different cities of the West Bank condemning the Israeli steps towards changing Jerusalem, which means that the people contain a lot of anger against this policy and this made Abbas retreat from accepting the indirect negotiations with Israel.
MW: How does the PFLP see the role of the Israeli working class, and does the PFLP maintain links with Israeli anti-Zionist and socialist Jewish groups?
LK: We have links with some personalities and we also look upon the working class as a free working class. The working class in Israel is a part of occupation – up till now. So this working class is deceived by the Zionist ideology and that’s why we are looking for the Israelis like Peace Now or Stop The Wall, those who are supporting our people against the wall, who express their solidarity every week in the demonstrations in different villages like Bil’in and Nilin, but this is not a wide movement that is the mainstream in society. Because we have seen two years ago, or less than that, when the elections took place in Israel a majority of the working class in Israel voted for the extreme right, which means that up till now the working class in Israel is having illusions about the right wing in Israel to govern. This means that we need more time to reach a common vision from the working class also in Israel that occupation is un-human, it’s illegal and it’s against their society itself because I have to say that the Palestinian workers in Israel, their employers sometimes they don’t give the Palestinian workers their price. The Histadrut which is representative of the working class do not defend the Palestinian workers which means that up till now this working class is a part of occupation.
MW: What is the PFLP’s analysis of the growing anti-imperialist movement in South America, led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, who both recently cut all diplomatic ties with Israel and expelled Israeli diplomats?
LK: Just when Chavez was elected and then afterwards Morales and their policies we have seen more hope and more strength to face American imperialism and since that time we have good relations with the parties there and with the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia. This gives us also strength to tell our masses not only in Palestine but also in Iraq, in Egypt, in the Arab countries that American Imperialism is not our destiny so we can face it. And now people can see that there is hope to stop the occupation in Palestine and Iraq as well. Because now there are two Arab countries which are occupied by Israelis and Americans. So those poor people in Venezuela and Bolivia changed the idea and the attitude of the American administration, that South America is the garden behind the White House, changed to be that these are free countries, free people, who are struggling for their human rights, for their progress. This gives us more patience, more courage to continue our struggle.
I have to say that in the demonstrations last year during the war against Gaza, people, our people were carrying Chavez posters, as if looking upon him as a hero, not only for Venezuela but also for all peoples who are looking for their freedom. Which shows that our people understood directly that such personalities in history, even if they are far away in geography, it meant for us that those people have brought freedom to their countries and they will help those who are living under occupation in Palestine and Iraq too.
MW: Can you provide an insight into the current role of the various Arab regimes, and are there any popular mass movements in the Arab world that could help in challenging the status quo?
LK: When we speak about Arab regimes in general, and in some very few exceptions, like Syria, other regimes like Egypt for example or Saudi Arabia or those who were supporting the Palestinian question, now we have seen them in the last summit in Libya, they even didn’t deny any of the American policy in occupied Palestine or Iraq; the Arab regimes in general, they have, they are abiding by the American policy in our area because they don’t have their own decisions. They are always ordered to make their policy according to the American/Israeli interests in our area.
And since years when Shimon Peres called for a new Middle East where the Arab world and the Jewish brains can go together and can build a flourishing Middle East, this is in his book The New Middle East, which meant that the Arabs have to accept Israel as a part of their future. Now, the Americans added the big Middle East, to build a new bigger Middle East which meant the occupation of Iraq, in the American occupation of Iraq, it meant to build a region according to American interests in this region. So I think the popular movement of the parties, the Arab parties are trying to make a kind of unity among them, such a unity to have one voice against their regimes but according to the lack of democracy in these countries I think this means we need a lot of work and a lot of struggle to change the regimes. The Arab regimes have to be democratic regimes in our area, especially those around Palestine itself.
Now the last summit which was declared that it is a summit for Jerusalem. Given two days the Arab regimes just said that they have to pay, that they wanted to pay half a billion dollars for Jerusalem on condition that (inaudible) this means that they are not going to pay. But is it the problem of money only in Jerusalem or a political attitude only to work on an international level to use oil as one of the weapons that we base such policies? They don’t do that so we don’t see in the Arab regimes a factor of supporting their people, because those countries, if when they speak about democracy they speak it theoretically not literally, as an actual way of building societies. There are a lot of violations of human rights. You can see that many of the activists go to the jails because of their attitudes in different Arab countries. Mind you, there are two countries who have diplomatic and economic relations and military relations and security co-ordination with Israel, like Egypt and Jordan. Egypt is building, according to the American order, the steel wall between Gaza and Egypt so it will not help our options. We don’t depend upon such regimes but we depend upon their masses to change those regimes.
I say there is an exception with Syria. It’s still against American and Israeli occupation and domination in the region. That’s why we have good connections with Syria, who proved to be a country and a government, as a leadership, who still support the Palestinian struggle and the resistance as a right for the people in Lebanon, in Palestine, and in Iraq.