Kaddoumi Toes the Hard Line

Farouk Kaddoumi, who has retained the PLO’s foreign affairs portfolio since Yasser Arafat’s days in Tunis, claims the ‘Arab Spring’ will reunite Palestinians against Israel.

Kadoumi_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
THE PALESTINIAN MOVEment’s most veteran politician Farouk Kaddoumi has survived countless upheavals. Now 80 years old, he is a perennial member of the opposition within Fatah, the reigning party in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In 1982, he arrived in Tunis together with the PLO leadership, led by Yasser Arafat, which had been forced out of Lebanon by the Israeli invasion. Since then, he has remained in Tunis, refusing to come, even for the briefest visit, to Ramallah. His well-known declaration has consistently been, “I will never come to my homeland if it means that I must obtain a permit from the Israeli occupier.”
Despite his constant arguments with Arafat, and his even more constant arguments with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Kaddoumi retains the position of the PLO’s foreign minister. The portfolio has lost all meaning and significance since the establishment of the PA and its government in Ramallah, but interest in this elder Palestinian has been rekindled as a result of declarations he has made regarding the dramatic changes throughout the Arab world, especially in Egypt. The headlines for his statements, published in an interview in East Jerusalem’s “Al- Quds” newspaper in early April read: “The current revolutions will serve the Palestinian problem well… And the most important change will occur when the new regime in Egypt returns to the nationalist positions held by Abdul Nasser.”
In other words, Kaddoumi, who has supported the violent struggle against Israel all his life, refusing any and all political compromise, has reached the conclusion that the changes in Egypt and the Arab world will lead to an acceptance of his positions. Kaddoumi is an Arab nationalist who despises Islamic extremism, although his political positions, especially his support for the armed struggle against Israel, are identical to those held by Hamas. Israeli politicians should be concerned by Kaddoumi’s analysis: His advanced age and the course of his life have brought him unparalleled knowledge of the region.
Kaddoumi was born in 1931 in the village of Jinsafut in the Qalqilya region; his family was originally from the nearby village of Kaddoum, close to where the Jewish settlement of Kedumim was established in 1975.
While he was still a child, his family moved to Jaffa, where they remained until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, when most of Jaffa’s residents left. Kaddoumi then moved to Lebanon and joined the Ba’ath party, which promoted Arab unity and subsequently took control in Syria and Iraq. In the 1950s, he studied economics and political science in Cairo, where he first met Arafat. After completing his studies, Kaddoumi spent several years in Libya and Saudi Arabia, and, in 1957, came to Kuwait, where he took up a position in the Emirate’s Ministry of Health.
Kaddoumi is one of the five young men who founded the Fatah and are considered to be the forefathers of Palestinian nationalism.
Four of the five are dead: Khalil al-Wazir was killed in an Israeli raid on PLO headquarters in Tunis in 1988; Salah Khalaf was killed by a dissident from the PLO in his office in Tunis in 1991; Khaled al-Hassan died of natural causes in Morocco in 1994; and Arafat died and was buried in Ramallah more than six years ago. After Arafat’s death, some spoke of Kaddoumi as his successor. Kaddoumi was the most veteran and the most experienced of what was known as the “historic leadership” of the PLO and the Fatah. But his extremist positions made this impossible.
Over the past few years, he has led a small group of Fatah activists who have refused to accept the Oslo Accords, which Kaddoumi refers to as “our greatest mistake.” According to Kaddoumi, the Arabs also made a mistake when they accepted UN Resolution 242, which, in essence, recognizes the State of Israel. And, of course, the greatest mistake of all, in his opinion, is the peace agreement that the recently-deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak made every effort to maintain. “That scoundrel Mubarak was actually promoting Israel’s security and defense by supporting the siege on Gaza, and he didn’t raise a finger when Israel attacked Lebanon,” Kaddoumi claimed in the interview in “Al-Quds.”
Arab statesmen and analysts, including Kaddoumi, believe that without Egypt, the Arab states will never be able to deal with Israel militarily. Egypt, “the mother of the Arab nation,” is the largest and strongest of all of the Arab countries. It has led the Arab states in their wars against Israel and, in contrast, it has also led them towards peace and reconciliation.
This was as true for the cease-fire agreements after the war in 1948 as it was in the years following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The Arab states announced that they would boycott Egypt – but then president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, told them, “Who are you to boycott me? I will boycott you!” Analysts write daily in the Palestinian and Arab media that the might of Israel comes primarily from the military and diplomatic support that the tiny Jewish state receives from the West, especially the US. Without such support, they contend, Israel would be unable to maintain what the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, regards as its policy of discrimination and occupation, expansion of settlements and the Judaization of Jerusalem.
According to this logic, the Palestinians alone cannot deal with Israel and its allies in the West. The Palestinians need help, support, and backing from the Arab and Islamic world, which alone has the power to deal with the American and European West.
Egypt is therefore a key state and Kaddoumi feels that now there might be a change. Egypt, in his opinion, is capable of returning to the glory days of Nasser, who was not afraid to go to war against Israel and led the Arab states in their wars against Israel.
Even after his terrible defeat in the Six Day War in 1967, Nasser refused to give in and made his famous declaration, “What was taken by force will be returned by force.”
This constituted a total rejection of any form of diplomatic process – that same process that Sadat and Mubarak subsequently chose to support.
IS THERE INDEED A POSSIBILITY that the new regime in Egypt will be more hostile to Israel? Kaddoumi and many other Palestinians believe that there is. Egypt will not abrogate the peace agreement – but will take a much harder line towards Israel. It will have to do this, first of all because of the younger generation of revolutionaries who threw out Mubarak and his regime will bring increased democratization to Egypt. The Islamic groups and the veteran Nasserist opposition, for example, will actively participate in the government and will bring about policy changes.
“The revolutions in Tunis and Egypt were blessed revolutions,” Kaddoumi says, “because they were led by the masses and not by military juntas or party members... the commanders of the revolution were the people, who want fundamental change in government and to build a new regime,” he explains.
The most significant issue is a change in the policy with regard to the siege on the Hamas government in Gaza. “If I am elected president, I will immediately open the crossings into Gaza and I will maintain and observe our defense treaties with the Arab countries,” Mohammed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced when he returned to Cairo and declared that he’ll run for president of Egypt. His declaration regarding the defense treaties with other Arab countries is an explicit threat to the Israeli government that Egypt will not sit idly by if Israel goes to war against Syria or Lebanon and, perhaps, Gaza as well. Another candidate for president, director general of the Arab League Amr Moussa, holds positions similar to ElBaradei’s.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that is currently in control of Egypt and is supposed to prepare the upcoming elections, is of course also aware of the reconciliation attempts between the Fatah in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza. After meeting in early April with Palestinians who are trying to mediate between the two sides, and after Abbas’s declaration that he supports these reconciliation attempts, Tantawi invited Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas, to a meeting together with Abdullah Ramadan Shelah, head of the Islamic Jihad.
These two men had been boycotted by Mubarak’s government. It may be that Tantawi, who, to put it mildly, is not known for his pro-Israeli stands, was also the one who facilitated the release of the many Hamas prisoners who had been imprisoned in Egypt, some of whom have returned to Gaza.
Kaddoumi, like many other Palestinians, is involved in promoting changes in the position of the Turkish government, which has grown closer to Syria, Iran and Hamas. He is not a religious man, nor is he afraid of the Shiites.
However, he admires Iran and Lebanon’s Hizballah for their strong anti-Israeli stands.
Indeed, there is a movement in Gaza that has declared that its members are leaving Sunni Islam and becoming Shiite. An accountant from the Jabalya refugee camp, named Abd al-Rahim Hamad, 42, is at the head of this small group, which, according to publications on the Al-Quds Internet site, based in Britain, and other sources, views Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah as their leaders.
Kaddoumi is convinced that against the background of the changes in Egypt and the Arab world it is necessary to convene the PLO national council and to broaden it to include representatives of all of the factions – that is, to include Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. This, he believes, will bring an end to the factionalism in the Palestinian camp, whose younger members are calling for unity.
Kaddoumi may be part of the past, but his positions and analyses reveal that he may be correctly assessing the winds blowing among the younger Palestinians – and Israel had better pay attention.