4 - 10 November 1999
Issue No. 454
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Return deniedBy Sherine Bahaa
Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), is among the most vocal advocates of the Palestinian right of return. It comes as no surprise, then, that Israel's decision to allow him back to his homeland lasted for no more than a couple of days before being suspended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Barak's decision to revoke the permission allowing Hawatmeh's return came only a few hours after Israeli radio aired an interview with the radical Palestinian leader -- the second in two days -- emphasising the Palestinian right to resort to armed struggle. He reserved this right as long as Israeli settlement activities continued and millions of Palestinian refugees remained unable to return to their homeland.
These statements triggered a storm of protest in Israel, and Prime Minister Barak was asked not to allow Hawatmeh to return to Palestinian self-rule areas. The Qatari official news agency quoted Hawatmeh as defending the "right to fight on the ground, throughout the occupied territories".
Later, Hawatmeh toned down his rhetoric on armed struggle, telling news agencies on Saturday that "since 1987, we decided not to use weapons, but to rely instead on the intifada (the uprising) of the masses." He also told the Weekly that his movement routinely condemned all forms of violence, including hijacking of airplanes, kidnapping Israeli or American officials, and commandeering ships.
The request for the DFLP leader's return to self-rule areas came from Palestinian President Yasser Arafat after two meetings with Hawatmeh in Cairo and Amman over the past three months. The meetings aimed to reintegrate the DFLP within the ranks of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Arafat. Both Hawatmeh and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), George Habash, suspended their groups' membership in the PLO in protest of Arafat's signing of the 1993 Oslo agreement with Israel.
The Israeli decision came a few weeks after the United States agreed to remove the DFLP from the list of organisations accused of "terrorism" by the State Department. However, observers believe that the real turn in Israel's stand on Hawatmeh came after he shook hands with Israeli President Eizre Weizmen at King Hussein's funeral in Amman in February.
The suspension of Hawatmeh's return, according to Barak spokeswoman Merav Parsi-tzadokyet, was influenced by Israeli security officials. "Mr Barak has decided to suspend the permission granted to Mr Hawatmeh, bearing in mind his remarks and the conditions he has set for his return," she said.
Government sources later said a definitive decision on Hawatmeh's return would depend on how he explained his comments. Yet Hawatmeh refused an explanation, insisting that "Israel has no right whatsoever to impose conditions on Palestinian people to grant them the right of return."
Haidar Abdel-Shafi, former Palestinian negotiator, agreed with the spirit of Hawatmeh's remarks, though he noted that there was nothing new in Hawatmeh's comments. "I want to remind the international community that Israel is here in our lands by force, but this should not be taken as a pretext for us because we are committed to the peace process, though this commitment did not result in tangible or promising results."
According to Abdel-Shafi, who refused to be part of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians are in a crisis situation that justifies defending their rights through armed struggle. "When Hawatmeh calls for armed struggle he knows that we cannot [really] practice [this]," he told the Weekly.
Meanwhile, Hawatmeh said Barak's change of heart was "contrary to the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the treatment of occupied territories, which was signed by the Israeli government itself". He also said the decision was political motivated. The Israeli decision came three days before the Clinton-Barak-Arafat summit in Oslo on Tuesday, which is to launch negotiations aimed at drawing up a framework agreement on final status before the February 2000 deadline. Hawatmeh noted: "I am sure that suspending the decision of my return is meant to corner Arafat at such a critical time."
Hawatmeh claimed that secret talks are being held outside the official framework of negotiations by Arafat, chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Barak and close aides. He said Barak is taking a draft for a framework agreement with him to Oslo to pressure Arafat to cave in to Israeli demands. According to Hawatmeh, Barak, by creating a secret channel for final status negotiations, is seeking to marginalise the formal negotiations, over which Palestinian pubic opinion and PLO political groupings have more control.
This, he added, would result in something on the lines of the so-called Beilin-Abu Mazen document on final status. Though the document's existence has been denied by Palestinian chief negotiator Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the leaked document was allegedly signed by him and Yossi Beilin, who was then serving in the government of late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and is now the Israeli justice minister.
In this document, Abu Mazen allegedly agreed to give up key Palestinian demands, such as insisting that East Jerusalem be the capital of the future Palestinian state, and agreed instead to a capital in a village east of Jerusalem known as Abu Dis.
"They want to negotiate with only one colour of the Palestinian movement rather than negotiating with a national coalition combing all national forces," Hawatmeh said. The idea of a Palestinian national coalition conducting final status negotiations was brought up by the DFLP in their talks with Arafat's Fatah last August. It was the first set of formal talks between the two sides since the DFLP rejected the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel.
For Hawatmeh, the PA represents one sector of Palestinian movement. "[The PA] is part of the Palestinian people on only part of their territories," he said. But for the DFLP, he added, the PLO is a much preferred framework to most of the Palestinian political groups.
According to Hawatmeh, agreements reached during the Cairo talks with Arafat displeased the Israeli government, leaving Barak no alternative but to "yield to pressure by the hawkish right wingers and cancel his decision for granting me the right of return".