(photo credit: AP [file])
"[Palestinian Authority Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas is a man of peace. He is a liberal willing to negotiate, unlike [former PA chairman Yasser] Arafat, who wanted to enact a totalitarian regime based on nepotism," Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) leader Nayef Hawatmeh told Channel One in an interview aired Friday evening.
Hawatmeh, who currently resides in Syria and has never lived in the West Bank, wishes to join Abbas in Ramallah to strengthen the Palestinian government against Hamas, the extremist organization that took Gaza violently in June in what Abbas and his allies termed a "coup."
A Greek orthodox Christian with marxist leanings, Hawatmeh was a close ally of Arafat and was also the brain behind the lethal Ma'alot terror attack.
On May 15th, 1974 a unit sent by Hawatmeh overtook a school in Ma'alot, leaving in its wake 22 dead, including three of the same family and an additional 68 wounded.
When asked about the event, Hawatmeh stopped short of expressing regret, but said that "the action is part of history and one day both sides would have to be accountable for the events of the past."
Recently Hawatmeh cancelled an Israeli offer to visit the West Bank.
"The offer should be taken in the context it was made. What the Olmert government offered me is to come for only two weeks without freedom of movement. I want to come permanently, and have freedom of movement including the freedom to go abroad."
When asked by analyst Oded Granot if he was not trying to implement the "right of return" before the signing of any binding agreements, Hawatmeh elaborated: "We are not talking only about the of leaders and [Palestinian] seniors whose job is to find solutions to the conflict.
"Both sides have lost 30 years during which they could have reached an agreement."
Hawatmeh, however, was skeptic whether the Israeli society and the current government were really interested in making peace.
"Olmert's government has stated many times it seeks peace, but we still cannot see signs of this on the ground - in polls, about 70 percent of Israelis say they want peace, but an overwhelming majority also says it would vote for parties from the extreme right-wing. The right-wing parties will not bring peace, so how could this work?" Hawatmeh asked.
"Precisely what kind of peace do you desire, I ask all of Israeli society," he added.
The DFLP leader's stance on Hamas is uncompromising: "There's a great difference between the DFLP and Hamas. Hamas is a totalitarian, anti-pluralistic organization. Their idea of a ten-year long Hudna (ceasefire) that would be renewed every decade is not feasible."
Hawatmeh referred to Hamas's June takeover of Gaza as a "tragic turn of events."
When asked on the recent change in the Palestinian government's charter, specifically the removal of the word Mukawama (resistance in Arabic, implying, for some, a license to use violence), and its replacement with "civilian struggle," a revision which brought Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad into some controversy, Hawatmeh said "I do not play word games. Our movement is absolutely against any kind of armed struggle in which civilians might be hurt."
On other topics, Hawatmeh said that Syrian President Bashar Assad was truly seeking peace but that this would only be possible if Israel returned the Golan Heights in their entirety to Syrian hands.
Ma'alot survivors vowed to use any means to stop the government from allowing Hawatmeh to return.
"I complained with police and submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice," a survivor of the 1970s attack said. "But we will do whatever it takes, even block the bridges from Jordan into Israel on which he [Hawatmeh] is meant to pass."