Analysis: A dubious pair of 'allies' for Abbas

It's hard to see how the arrival of Hawatmeh and Kaddoumi would bolster the standing of the Palestinian Authority's Chairman.

abbas 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
It's hard to see how the arrival of Nayef Hawatmeh and Farouk Kaddoumi in Ramallah would bolster the standing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas or advance the cause of peace in the region. Many Palestinians on Sunday scoffed at attempts to depict the two as the "saviors" who would help Abbas in his war with Hamas. They pointed out that both Kaddoumi and Hawatmeh had very little support in the Palestinian territories and were regarded as old-timers belonging to a different generation of leaders who spent the past four decades outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hawatmeh, a Greek Orthodox Christian who founded the Marxist-Leninist Democratic Front of the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) in the early 1970s, rejected the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993. The Jordanian citizen broke away from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) after an unsuccessful attempt in the early '70s to oust the organization's founder and leader, George Habash. Since then, Hawatmeh has been unsuccessful in his attempts to expand the DFLP, which remains a tiny faction inside the PLO. The DFLP has only a few hundred activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Lebanon. In addition, DFLP members did not play a big role in the first and second intifadas. Most of the organization's major terrorist activities occurred in the '70s and '80s. In the Palestinian political arena, DFLP officials have hardly been noticed over the past few decades. In 1990, Hawatmeh's DFLP suffered a severe blow when several top operatives broke away to establish the Palestine Democratic Union, generally known as FIDA. Founded by Yasser Abed Rabbo, FIDA took a more moderate stance than the Syria-based DFLP by advocating a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. And while the DFLP joined an alliance of Palestinian rejectionist groups staunchly opposed to the Oslo Accords, Abed Rabbo and his colleagues took an active part in peace talks with Israel. True, the 70-year-old Hawatmeh is said to have softened his position toward the Israeli-Arab conflict in the past decade, but he remains staunchly opposed to the Oslo Accords and continues to talk about the need to pursue the "armed struggle" against Israel. Hawatmeh has also been critical of Abbas and his Fatah faction for making too many concessions to Israel and for failing to end rampant financial corruption in the PA. Kaddoumi, for his part, has become over the past 14 years one of the most prominent symbols of the opposition to the Oslo Accords. He was the only senior PLO official who came out openly against the Oslo Accords, and refused to move from Tunis to the Palestinian territories with his former boss, Yasser Arafat. At the age of 74, Kaddoumi, who is known in Palestinian circles as a "serial troublemaker," has yet to abandon his dream of succeeding Arafat as the unchallenged leader of the Palestinians. Ever since Arafat's death in November 2004, Kaddoumi, who maintains close relations with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and the Syrian regime, has been working hard to undermine Abbas's authority. Last year, Abbas and his security forces thwarted an attempt by Kaddoumi to establish his own Fatah armed group in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Just last week, in an interview with the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, he launched a scathing attack on the current Fatah leadership, holding it responsible for Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip. The Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip has forced Abbas to seek an alliance with political foes like Kaddoumi and Hawatmeh. The two, who are known to despise Abbas, are coming to Ramallah because the PA chairman needs them on his side against Hamas. Abbas is planning to convene the PLO central committee in Ramallah to seek its backing for the formation of Salaam Fayad's government. Last week, Abbas failed to convene the Hamas-dominated parliament to seek approval for the Fayad government. Now Abbas is planning to replace the parliament with the PLO central committee - a move that has been denounced as unconstitutional by leading Palestinian legal experts and Hamas. And he hopes to achieve his goal with the help of "historic" figures like Kaddoumi and Hawatmeh. But even among the top brass of the PA, there are serious doubts as to whether the two would openly join Abbas's campaign against Hamas. While Kaddoumi and Hawatmeh have condemned Hamas's violent seizure of the Gaza Strip, they believe that the only way to resolve the crisis is through launching a dialogue between Fatah and Hamas.