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El-Natour: Palestinian resistance more than Fatah and Hamas

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Beirut in a Palestinian refugee camp called Mar Elias. And joining us now to understand further what’s going on in the Palestinian refugee camps and the Palestinian resistance movement is Dr. Souheil el-Natour. He is the executive manager of the Human Development Center. He’s a member of the central committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). He’s a member of the Palestinian National Council. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: And you’ll have to excuse the sunglasses, because the sun is burning in my eyes, and I won’t be able to do this without them. So start off by just giving us a sense of who is the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and where does it fit in terms of the politics between Fatah and Hamas.

EL-NATOUR: Well, thank you for this question, because since a long time, a lot of people are considering the situation of the Palestinians as divided only between Fatah and Hamas, while at the beginning of our resistance movement there were no Hamas, there were only organizations of a nationalist, secular, or leftist forces who are joined under the umbrella of PLO. We are, as Democratic Front, from the leftist side, who were since the beginning an integral part of the PLO, and we were the organization which promoted and proposed what is now the common national program for the Palestinian refugee resistance.

JAY: If I understand it correctly, the Palestine Liberation Organization is a united front. It has different parties in it. The biggest party is Fatah, and then next after that is the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

EL-NATOUR: Yes, and there are some small organization which were left or disappeared with the process of time because they were nationalist and they didn’t have any very big difference after joining the PLO and its common program, and the most effective, because Fatah was considered as a general, broad organization and the leadership was considered little bit on the right, middle-right, rightist, while the Democratic Front is the leftist.

JAY: And Fatah was the organization of Yasser Arafat.

EL-NATOUR: Fatah was the organization of Yasser Arafat, and the actual organization of Mr. Abu Mazen—at the same time, he is the leader of Fatah. But Fatah constituency changed, because there were a lot of trends inside Fatah, which were also reflecting the broad constituency of our people, of refugees. As at the beginning, in 1965 the revolution began by operation commandos from the refugee camp outside Palestine trying to /gu/, for the sake of the refugee, right of return as it was pronounced by the UN Resolution 194. Democratic Front was the one which was created in 1969—that means after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. And this is the activists who were thinking that we have now two tasks, not only one, is to liberate our recently occupied land in Gaza and West Bank, at the same time to insist on the right of refugees who were scattered since 1948. So we had two wars from Israel to kick our people out and to occupy our land. So the political program offered by the DFLP was to concentrate on the right of refugees to return and to liberate Palestine and to establish a Palestinian state with Arab Jerusalem as its capital. Now, there was a different interpretation with Fatah at that time, and that Fatah said a democratic Palestine for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We on the left, we said no, we don’t want to divide our people between Christians, and the war against our people is not a religious one. This is not a war between Islam, Christianity, and Jewish. It is a war of national people who are occupying our land and oppressing the Palestinians. So this is a national struggle for liberation. That’s why after long discussions and long struggle inside the Palestinian ranks, we adopted the program. This program of DFLP promoted the [PFLP, or Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] in the eyes of the public. This way the number of PFLP augmented to be relatively, consecutively, number two inside PLO instances.

JAY: I’m not quite understanding the difference in terms of calling it a national struggle versus fighting for a state for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. What’s the difference, and where do you want to end up?

EL-NATOUR: Oh, if we consider it a religious war, that means we are against all the Jews all over the world, because we want to liberate us from the Israeli occupation, not from every Jew. We have Jews who are with the rights of the Palestinians to have independent state and the right of refugees, and in celebrating the catastrophe of 1948. In London, for example, there is a 1948 catastrophe remembered, which is presided by a lot of Jews who are giving a lot of support for the Palestinian right of return. I think this was the difference, that we see the enemy is the occupying forces of Israeli state. It’s not the Jews. We want the Jews to live with us together in peace, if we can, in one state; if we can’t, at least two separate states coexisting in peace, and the leftist and democratic forces inside these two states will one day in the future struggle for a unified Palestine-Israel.

JAY: Now, in terms of Fatah’s position now, don’t they have more or less the same position now?

EL-NATOUR: Yes. We—after the adoption of the political program, now this is the same. That’s why expression of our alliance inside PLO continuously that they are on the same program.

JAY: Now, there was a big division. I think a lot of it took place in the camps in Lebanon and elsewhere, if I have it correctly, in the ’70s, on the question of whether to recognize the state of Israel and whether to negotiate or not. And to some extent that still is part of the split between Hamas and PLO, where Hamas essentially doesn’t want to have negotiations, they say. Where is that now, both, within the PLO? And then a bit about this difference between PLO and Hamas.

EL-NATOUR: No, the differences were that we wanted to struggle for establishing our state by kicking out the forces of the occupation while that—and we were ready to negotiate for this while Israel was rejecting both. They wanted to confirm their grip on our land and to create settler colonialism and to push our people outside eternally. So that time that the question between the struggling organizations was not to struggle, to liberate, and to have this independent state or not. That was about who is leading the struggle, much more competition [inaudible] and who is leading the struggle for the human rights of the Palestinians as refugees in the Arab world.

JAY: But what was the split that led to something called the Resistance Front?

EL-NATOUR: Now it’s clear this was some kind of manipulation of Arab regimes, interference in the affairs of the Palestinian resistance, because there were a lot of organization which were formed and encouraged by Arab regimes under the pretext this is an Arab cause more than only Palestinian cause. And that’s why PLO was the umbrella together all the Palestinian factions on the same, struggling for getting in the Arab summit, after ’74, the recognition as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It was a kind of marginal independence from the willingness of Arab regimes more than that the Israelis were negating our presence completely. That time, Golda Meir was the prime minister in Israel, and it was so famous what she was repeating. Palestinians? I don’t see any Palestinian. There is no Palestinian people. While we were, very differently, struggling to return our refugees to continue living together on our land after the liberation.

JAY: When we interview Fatah, they point to the tactics of struggle that Hamas uses and say it’s getting them nowhere, the kind of armed resistance, and that they facilitated this movement to turning Gaza into a kind of prison. When you talk to Hamas, they say the peace negotiations are going nowhere and those strategy and tactics are leading nowhere. What do you make of this debate there or difference [inaudible]

EL-NATOUR: The Democratic Front, when Mr. Arafat ratified the agreement of Oslo, which created a new qualitative situation in the Palestinian struggle, we were against the content of the agreement, because we protested that there was nothing mentioning the settler colonialism to be stopped and to dismantle the colonies created by Israel, because we were considering, the Democratic Front, that the most dangerous situation for the Palestinians is to Judaize the Palestinian land occupied, especially Jerusalem, which is—now everyone is realizing how [inaudible] That’s why we were opposing not the principle of peace and not the principle of negotiation, but what was considered minus in the content of Oslo agreement. This time it was the beginning of creation of Hamas, because Hamas didn’t—was not—in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s it was not existent. There was a slow, minimum Palestinians working in some mosques, preaching about Islam, on the name of Hamas, as a branch of Muslim Brotherhood. So it was a branch of the big pan-Arab and pan-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood Party, and they were not seeking the liberation of Palestine at that time; they were only preaching about how to meet and to educate on Islam. So that was very different. After the beginning of the first intifada and the attacks of Israel against Hamas, Hamas joined the intifada and began to be one of the factions in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. So when we speak now about the different positions, Hamas used the armed struggle. When Fatah began to say that we begin to get some fruits of our old armed struggle after the negotiations with Israel and having Oslo agreement, so we have to wait, because Oslo agreement was supposed to be in term for five years, and after that to declare the independent state and Jerusalem as capital and the returned refugees. After five years, all the organizations, including parts of Fatah, were against the continuity of being silent and not to use the armed struggle against the continuous occupation. Until now, we are with the struggle militarily at the same time with negotiations on fair basis to implement the UN resolutions, while Israel is insisting to have a void negotiations and dialogue without getting any results and without terms of reference as UN resolutions. So the mighty Israeli occupation will impose on Fatah everything in such kind of negotiations. Abu Mazen accepted this with the pressures of the American actual administration. We are still refusing to go back to the negotiations, because we consider this is a fruitless way to reach our inalienable rights, right of return, right to have independent state, and right to have Jerusalem as the capital.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk more about the Fatah-Hamas split and exactly where is the positioning of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Souheil el-Natour.

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Dr Souheil el Natour

Dr Souheil was born in Acre, Palestine, 1947, where his family was expelled from by the Israeli occupation forces. He and his family have been refugees in Lebanon, where he remains at the Mar Elias Refugee Camp.

After his studies in Arabic Literature and Law, Dr Souheil joined the staff of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Beirut in 1964. In 1965, Dr Souheil was transferred to the PLO Research Center where he worked as co-editor of the "Shu'un Filistiniah"" (Palestine Affairs) periodical. In 1975