Gamal Nkrumah sounds out Nayef Hawatmeh's views on Palestine,
Pan- Arabism, Gaza and Hamas
Nayef Hawatmeh, founding member of the Palestine Liberation
Organisation (PLO) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of
Palestine (DFLP), is not camera shy. During his brief stay in Cairo
this week, he conducted at least half a dozen television and press
interviews. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
is the second largest political group within the PLO after Fatah.
The DFLP languishes in third place, but is highly influential.
The views of Comrade Hawatmeh, as he is popularly known in leftist
Palestinian circles, count. Unlike Fatah, the largest of the PLO
groups, the DFLP is against peace negotiations with Israel. This
strategy has gained ground, drawing on the powerful emotions
provoked by the utter devastation and humanitarian catastrophe in
Scorched in the flames of the Hamas political hegemony over Gaza,
since it seized control of the Strip in June 2007, the Palestinian
political scene has been characterised by division, factionalism and
The DFLP does not dismiss Hamas as a band of fanatics; however,
Hawatmeh warns that much of the current deplorable political
situation among the Palestinians is due to Hamas's political
intrigue. Hawatmeh strongly believes that there is a leftist
political alternative to militant Islamists.
Hamas is convinced that attack is the best form of defence. The DFLP
has long championed armed resistance. However, it has urged
Palestinian unity as the panacea to the current political and socio-
economic challenges facing the Palestinian people.
This is a man who does not mince words. Diplomatic overtures to
friends do not come easy to Hawatmeh. Forget about the foes. He
called the Oslo 1993 Accords between the PLO and Israel a "sell-out".
What he is most concerned about for the moment is that the
Palestinians are being subjected to the interference of outside
forces and are being dragged into the squabbles of others, just as
the Lebanese before them were. The pattern is repeating itself. The
Palestinians need to preserve their freedom to act independently in
spite of the unbearable pressures they face.
A number of Egyptian and other Arab initiatives have been very
supportive of the Palestinian cause and tried to help advance
Palestinian solidarity. However, they were bound to flounder under
the current tragic circumstances. "The Yemeni initiative brings to
mind the Cairo Declaration of March 2005, and the Programme and the
National Conciliation Document of June 2006," Hawatmeh reminisces.
Arab governments have done their bit. However, "the monopoly of
Fatah and Hamas has led to their backtracking on these very
important landmarks in the Palestinian national reconciliation
process. That led to open fighting and the signing of the Mecca
Accord in March 2007, which Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal hailed as
reflecting a "new diplomatic language" by Hamas.
What exactly can Palestinian leaders of Hawatmeh's calibre do to
help consolidate the ranks of the Palestinian politicians? Hamas,
whatever one's reservations about its ideological posturing, cannot
possibly be bypassed. Hamas represents, after all, a sizeable
section of the Palestinian electorate, especially in Gaza.
"Hamas refused to talk to certain PLO factions concerning the more
recent Yemeni initiative. Hamas also declined to fully accept the
Yemeni initiative and insisted instead on reducing it to bilateral
discussions between Fatah and Hamas," Hawatmeh says, adding that the
intransigence of Hamas has led to the delay of the Yemeni
initiative. He blames Hamas for the Palestinian political impasse.
Hawatmeh, looking beyond the hyperbole, sees the underground link
between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in neighbouring countries
to Palestine such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria. He is convinced that
Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the international movement of the
Muslim Brotherhood. Hawatmeh spoke of the Hamas coup, and its
consequences -- invariably unfavourable to the Palestinian cause.
On the other hand, a number of Palestinian factions in the PLO
agreed in principle to implement the Yemeni initiative and called
for a national, inter-Palestinian dialogue in order to implement the
These deep divisions among the Palestinians are the legacy of the
Cold War. "The dissolution of a bipolar world and the break-up of
the Soviet Union led to the eradication of the forces of the left,
progressive and democratic forces in the Middle East," Hawatmeh
This international development, he explains, has had a direct impact
on the politics in the region and coincided with the rise of
Islamist groups such as Hamas. Worst, they do not help the
Palestinian people and their cause.
Some of his fellow Palestinians view him as a hard-headed Marxist,
an aberration from a now distant past. They believe that there is no
place for such an anomaly in the Palestinian National Council (PNC),
the Palestinian "parliament". On the contrary, he believes that the
PNC should be more representative of all the different strands of
There is a misunderstanding that the Palestinian Legislative Council
(PLC) had long been composed of different factions -- and not only
Hamas and Fatah. There are five main groups that dominate the
Palestinian political scene: Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP
and the DFLP. "It is about time that we in the Arab world and beyond
understand more fully this reality."
The Palestinian Authority (PA), too, should be more representative
of the various Palestinian factions. According to Hawatmeh,
Palestinian politics cannot be reduced to a fight between the
nationalists and the Islamists. Indeed, at the Damascus meeting last
month of representatives of Palestinian groups opposed to peace
talks with Israel, both Islamists and leftists worked hand in
hand. "The goal is to solve the current state of Palestinian
division through a comprehensive national dialogue that preserves
unity," the communiqué of the Damascus meeting stressed.
Ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza last June the hardships of
the Palestinians have dramatically increased. The situation has
weakened the Palestinian position internationally, and especially
among the world powers, the United States and its Quartet partners --
the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
The "old guard" are discredited and dismissed as corrupt and inept.
The "founding fathers" are all but forgotten. He concedes that the
left has been humbled and chastened. However, it is proving
difficult for the Palestinian political establishment to satisfy
this great welling up of demands, and he insists that though they
might be down, they are not out.
Fatah-Hamas tensions are now exaggerated by outside forces, and are
used to sow the seeds of civil strife among the Palestinians. But
then, there are different political strands even within Hamas, and
Ismail Haniyeh represents one of those strands, so it is not
difficult for outsiders to stir up problems.
The Pan-Arab scene is no less tragic. "The Arab summit was a sad
scene. It was a reflection of the Arab realities," he reflects. Arab
peoples no longer have faith in the institutions of their countries,
nor in pan-Arab institutions either."
He shrugs in utter dismay. "There are so many divisions," he
notes. "The Lebanese crisis is a microcosm of what is going on in
the wider Arab world," he warns. "The rupture between Hamas and
Fatah is yet another example of the splits and spats within the Arab
world," he adds. "Factionalism has become endemic."
So what is the solution?
"There is a need for solidarity between Arab countries in order for
us to resolve the recurrent calamities."
The low-level participation of Arab governments in the Damascus
summit was indicative of what has become of the Arab world," he
concedes. "Arab summits have become boring and barely register
anymore," Hawatmeh laments.
"The Arab crises continue to fester. We cannot find solutions to
these problems. The resolutions are meaningless. We the Palestinian
people are especially heartbroken by this trend because it is we who
will be most affected. We, more than any other Arab people, bear the
brunt of Arab disunity."
"There is a new optimism in the air in many Asian countries, in
Latin America and Africa south of the Sahara. It is about time that
we in the Arab world catch up with them," Hawetmeh concludes.