In a speech before the 6th Congress of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Dr. George Habash has announced his resignation from the post of General Secretary of the Front, a position he has held since the establishment of the PFLP in 1967. He thereby becomes the first leader of a Palestinian organization to resign voluntarily from his post.
Habash, who was one of the most prominent founders of the Arab Nationalists' Movement in the early 1950s, and who has been for many decades one of the symbols of the Palestinian and Arab struggle, announced in a moving speech that he will continue political work in the framework of the Popular Front and that he will devote his time to intellectual work, presiding over a center for political studies.
Habash, who is in his 73rd year and has suffered from health problems, specifically heart ailments in recent years, has repeatedly told his comrades of his desire to retire from leadership of the Front.
The Front's Congress, its first in seven years, opened with a speech delivered by the Deputy General Secretary, Abu Ali Mustafa, who is expected to take Habash's place as General Secretary and who has recently moved to live in the territory of the Palestine Autonomous Authority.
Mustafa's speech was followed by Dr. Habash's address, delivered on his behalf by PFLP Politbureau member Umar Qattish. In the course of the address, which lasted for about two hours, the situation of the Arab Nation and the destiny of the Palestine cause were reviewed and assessed.
According to some participants in the Congress, Habash's speech was extremely moving and was interrupted repeatedly by long ovations. According to those who listened to his farewell message, Habash courageously criticized himself in the course of the review of the stages of Arab National awakening, the Nasserist stage, the stage of armed struggle,
and the Palestinian situation after the Oslo agreements. He indicated that the defeat of the Arab Nationalist enterprise was not an inevitable fate, that objective factors, however important, were not the decisive factors that led to the defeat. He described the most outstanding factors that led to that defeat as being the absence of rationality and objectivity in the slogans raised by the movement.
Habash said that in the world today, despite what is said about it being a uni-polar world, there are two trenches: in one of them stand America, Israel, and those that take orders from them. In the opposing trench are the peoples and their liberation movements. In his opinion, the people's trench, although it is the weaker of the two, is the one that holds the seeds of revolt against the oppressive global situation. Habash indicated that the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestine Authority stand unfortunately in the trench that is opposed to the aspirations and hopes of the Arab Nation and the Palestinian people.
He reviewed the situation of the PLO and distinguished between the entity of the Organization and its Charter, on the one hand; and its policies and the impulses that lead to its liquidation on the other. He also examined the effort to defeat the Arab Nation's aspirations and asked what the reason could be for the defeat of a just cause with great possibilities in its Arab, Islamic, and humanist aspects.
Mahir al-Tahir, member of the Politbureau of the PFLP and official spokesman for the organization, said that the Congress, which will continue for several days, will also discuss the call to hold elections for a new Palestine National Council from which would be chosen a new Central Council and Executive Committee of the PLO that would include all Palestinian political currents, with the aim of reuniting the Palestinian organizations and reviving the PLO's work.
Al-Tahir emphasized that the Congress, which is attended by 150 members, is the only body authorized to decide on the resignation of George Habash and also on the matter of electing a new General Secretary, should it grant Habash's request. Al-Tahir sharply denied reports that had quoted him as saying that Habash intended to resign due to health reasons.
Al-Tahir said, "Comrade Habash has announced that he would like to step down from the role of General Secretary and he will present this proposal to the General Congress of the Front. The Congress will discuss this subject and it is the Congress that has the final say in it."
He added, "I believe that the reason for Dr. Habash's wish to resign is his belief in renewal and democracy. He also wants to focus his activity and devote himself to intellectual and research work and to setting up a center for studies to draw lessons from the 52 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Al-Tahir said that he expects that the Congress will affirm the need for the current Palestinian-Israeli negotiations based on the Oslo agreements to be stopped, and that discussions be held instead on the basis of the United Nations resolutions that demand Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied Arab lands and that declare the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
He said, "I believe the Congress will affirm the firm national principles and the PFLP's refusal to participate in the Final Settlement negotiations, that it will affirm the PFLP call for reuniting the PLO on the basis of its National Program and also the importance of the Arab national aspect of the Palestinian cause, and the importance of the declaration of the right of the Palestinian refugees, who now number over 5 million, to return to their homes."
("as-Safir," AP, Reuters)
-- Translation of a report from "as-Safir" newspaper, Beirut, 28 April 2000.