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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=53128&mador=4

Ha'aretz, August 9, 1999

Pleasing the PLO at the people's expense

By Danny Rubinstein

 

Abu Ali Mustafa, deputy leader of George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, announced over the weekend that arrangements have yet to be made for his return from Damascus to the West Bank. Palestinian Authority sources speculate, however, that the Israeli authorities will approve Mustafa's return if Arafat requests it.Most of the leaders of the PFLP, once the strongest opposition group in the PLO, are already residing in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. Among these are Tayasir Quba'a, who lives in Nablus and is deputy chair of the Palestinian National Council, Abed Rahim Malouh, PFLP representative to the PLO's executive committee, and Kais Abd Karim (Abu-Layla), who is of Iraqi descent but who joined Habash's movement years ago, in Lebanon.

Many PFLP leaders and activists have returned to the Palestinian territories in the years since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. They are among tens of thousands of PLO members, from all its different factions, who returned from the Arab diaspora to their homeland.

Some 30,000 joined the Palestinian defense establishment and other government institutions. Together with their family members, they constitute a body of some 150,000 people. To this day, the Palestinian newspapers occasionally carry greeting advertisements to welcome the new arrivals.

Ahead of the Palestinian National Council's gathering in the spring of 1996, Israel allowed hundreds of the Palestinian organizations' central activists into the territories, and since then they can come and go as they please.

In Palestinian political jargon, the return of thousands of PLO activists and their families has been dubbed "the small return."

In numerical terms, the retun of 150,000 people out of approximately 1.5 million refugees in the Arab world is a drop in the ocean (another 1.5 million refugees live in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and inside the State of Israel). But those who have returned since 1993 make up the political elite of the Palestinian national movement.

And "the small return" has an ironic aspect in terms of Israeli policy, since everyone knows who Abu Ali Mustafa and his colleagues from the PFLP leadership are, just as everyone knows who the 30,000 defense and administrative officials who have returned to the homeland are.

These are the leaders of the Palestinian armed struggle. They are the terrorists of the past, the airplane hijackers, the bomb planters, the Katyusha firers - commanders and foot soldiers alike.

Only they and their family members have been permitted to exercise the "right of return," while hundreds of thousands of other refugees who did not take up arms are forced to continue in their miserable lives of exile in refugee camps across the Arab world.

Every now and then, Israeli public opinion is awakened all of a sudden - because airplane hijacker Leila Khaled is coming for a visit, or because the German government and Interpol issue an arrest warrant and request extradition of Abu Dauod, who masterminded the 1972 terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics and recently returned to Ramallah.

But the basic principle behind the issue is clear - the return of the PLO's central activists is, to a large degree, a legitimization of the Palestinians' violent struggle through the past years.

But things look different from the refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, where sharp criticism of the "small return" can be heard. From the camp dweller's point of view, Arafat and his men - pretending to be a national liberation movement - have in the final analysis liberated only themselves and their relatives, at the expense of the masses of refugees remaining in camps in the diaspora.

Similar charges can be heard in the territories themselves. In private conversations ahead of Abu Ali Mustafa's possible return from Damascus to Arabe, his hometown near Jenine, Palestinians claim that Israel is once again buying off the PLO's leaders, who are solving their own problems while abandoning their people in exile

 

 

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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