Danny Rubinstein is a journalist with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz who has covered Palestinian affairs since 1967. He is the author of The Mystery of Arafat (Steerforth Press, 1995) and teaches courses on Middle East History at Ben-Gurion University.
In the predawn hours of Saturday, August 19, 1995, a messenger from Yasir Arafat's security service arrived at the head office of the newspaper Al-Quds and demanded that the newspaper--the most widely distributed Palestinian news publication--stop its presses, which it did. For the first time in years, Al-Quds was not sold at newsstands in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Why, the paper's editor Mahmoud Abu-Zuluf asked Arafat a day later, was the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) so angry at the newspaper? Because, Arafat replied, the newspaper had given too much prominence in the previous few days to attacks by Faruq Qaddumi, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)'s "foreign minister," on the Declaration of Principles (also known as the Oslo accord) and the PA. Qaddumi had called for an end to the negotiations with Israel and the opening of a dialogue with Palestinian organizations opposing Arafat's attempts toward peace. Al-Quds also published a five-part series in which Qaddumi told his memoirs to a journalist,1 Tawfiq Abu-Bakar
As this incident suggests, relations between Arafat and his old friend Qaddumi, also known by the nom de guerre Abu'l-Lutf, have in recent months deteriorated to an unprecedented level. Qaddumi has opposed the peace process for years, but in mid-1995, he organized an active opposition to Arafat. He took two steps: boycotting an early August session of the PLO's Executive Committee in Tunis to confirm the Palestinian position in negotiations with Israel; and, at a press conference in Amman, introducing a plan for reforming the PLO and replacing the PA in Gaza and Jericho. He then traveled to Damascus to meet with the Syrian foreign minister and leaders of the Palestinian rejection front -- a deliberate provocation aimed at Arafat. With these steps, Qaddumi for the first time in his life acted like the representatives of leftist fronts based in Damascus. What is Faruq Qaddumi aiming to achieve? Does he stand a chance?
Aside from Arafat, Qaddumi is the only remaining member of the group of five men who attended in Kuwait the founding meeting of the Fatah organization in October 1959.2 These five members were quickly joined by three more, of whom only one remains alive, Mahmud `Abbas (Abu Mazin). On those rare occasions when PLO leaders openly discuss a replacement for Arafat (such as happened during the brief hours when Arafat was presumed dead after his plane crashed in the Libyan desert in April 1992), the two remaining members of what is called "the historic leadership," Qaddumi and Abu Mazin, are invariably mentioned -- yet both of them are now at odds with Arafat over the negotiations with Israel and have drawn away from him.
However, while Abu Mazin disagrees with Arafat mainly on organizational matters, Qaddumi takes exception about politics. Abu Mazin has recently made conciliatory gestures toward Arafat -- leaving his house in Tunisia and renting space in Ramallah, on the West Bank; spending long hours in talks with Arafat even as he refuses to join the PA or its negotiating team. Qaddumi has made no such gestures, instead deepening his rift with Arafat. When invited by Arafat to come visit in Gaza, he replied: "I will not come to my homeland by permission of the Israeli occupation."3
Qaddumi has consistently stuck to a hardline approach to Israel. He opposed all of Arafat's moves toward negotiations with Israel from the time of the Palestinian National Council's meeting in Algiers in November 1988, where the PLO decided to accept U.N. Resolution 242 and thereby acknowledge the State of Israel. To this day, he refuses to meet with Israelis, making him one of the few key PLO officials still to hold out on this score. He has established himself as the representative of the "1948 Palestinians," those who left during Israel's war of independence and whose interests are ignored by the Oslo Accords. "The Palestinian question . . . is first and foremost the return of the refugees and the displaced persons," he insists.4
Born in the village of Ginsafut, Nablus county in 1934, Qaddumi spent his childhood in Jaffa, where the family moved during the 1930s, like tens of thousands of rural Arab families who moved to the big cities at that time. His father, a merchant, was a fallah (peasant) who had traveled to Jaffa to find a job in this developing Arab town; after some time, his wife and children joined him there. In 1948, the Qaddumi family left Jaffa to wander in several Arab countries. For some time, they stayed in Lebanon, where Qaddumi graduated from high school. Some members of the extended family went back to Jordan, and to their West Bank birthplace, Ginsafut.
Faruq Qaddumi moved to Cairo, where he first met Arafat, who is five years his senior, during the early 1950s. Arafat and his two close friends, Abu Jihad and Abu Iyad, were studying at what is now the Cairo University. In 1952, Arafat was elected chairman of the confederation of Palestinian students in Egypt. Qaddumi studied economics and political science at the American University in Cairo, where he too was a student activist. On finishing his studies, Qaddumi sought work in the Arab oil-exporting countries, first Libya, then Saudi Arabia, and finally Kuwait, where he arrived in 1957 and got a clerk's position at the Ministry of Health.
LIFE IN FATAH
Kuwait, at that time emerging as a major oil producer, offered excellent job opportunities to educated young Palestinians. Leaving their families behind, the young Palestinian men went their to work; and in the evenings they gathered to discuss politics and the future of their people. One of these groups, the only whose legacy still survives today, included Arafat, Qaddumi, Abu Jihad, and Abu Iyad; it formed the nucleus for Fatah.
As a leader of Fatah, Qaddumi's portfolio during the early 1960s consisted of ties with Egypt, for the simple reason that the Egyptian security services considered Arafat and Abu Iyad dangerous persons seeking to undermine the government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser (due to their connections to the Muslim Brethren). Qaddumi had the mission of improving ties with Egypt and trying to set up a meeting between Fatah leaders and Abdel Nasser. He had much trouble achieving this goal, but the meeting finally took place later late in the summer of 1967, following Abdel Nasser's defeat in the Six-Day War and as he started showing interest in Fatah's idea of a "popular war."
Unlike many of Fatah's key members, Qaddumi did not have military experience. Nonetheless, he was at Arafat's side during the Battle of Karameh in March 1968, the struggle in Jordan that, in the PLO annals, is considered to have been the first direct clash between Palestinian units and the Israeli army, and his presence did much to enhance his prestige. . When Israeli units retreated after the battle to the west of the Jordan River, the PLO proclaimed victory, indeed dubbed this battle "The Stalingrad of the Palestinians." From the time that Fatah took over the PLO in 1969, Qaddumi has served on the PLO's Executive Committee.
In 1968-70, Fatah practically took over in Jordan. When King Husayn fought back in September 1970 ("Black September"), Qaddumi found himself arrested and jailed. He sat out Jordan's civil war in jail, and was released only after Abdel Nasser sent an Egyptian officer to King Husayn specifically to plead Qaddumi's case.
Along with the entire PLO organization, Qaddumi then moved to Beirut. He enjoyed a place of privilege and honor throughout the 1970s, living next to Arafat in the Fakahani neighborhood of West Beirut. In May 1973, an Israeli commando unit raided the houses of PLO leaders in Beirut, killing three of them; after these killings, Arafat assigned him to head the organization's foreign bureau, a position he holds to this day, almost twenty-three years later. In this capacity, Qaddumi took charge of the Soviet bloc and Third World portfolios, a very important task given these states' strong support for the PLO. During his many trips around the globe, he cultivated relationships and opened PLO missions ("embassies") in over one hundred countries. During the 1982 war in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut, Qaddumi sat the conflict out in Europe, far away from the fighting, something that has not been forgotten in PLO circles.
Today, unlike most of the PLO leaders, who live in the Occupied Territories or Damascus, Qaddumi stays on in Tunis. He spends significant amounts of time in Amman and often visits Syria. At the same time, he allowed his wife, of the well-known Nimr family of Nablus, to visit the Israeli-controlled West Bank in 1994. His sons attended American colleges in the 1970s and 1980s; when PLO critics asked why they hadn't gone to school in the eastern bloc, Qaddumi pointed out the difference between science and education on the one hand and friendship and politics on the other -- a sorry answer that admits a conflict between personal actions and political beliefs. Qaddumi's eldest son, Lutf, now serves as North African director for Pepsi Cola; his second son, Rami, works for at a Tunisian branch of CitiBank.
Although recognized as a hardliner against Israel, those who know Qaddumi say that he is a modest and easygoing man in his private life; the PLO leadership speaks of him quite fondly. He apparently maintains close personal relations with his staff, even playing backgammon with his bodyguards. Rumor has it that he drinks heavily. His health is poor; some years ago, he was hospitalized for a lengthy period.
RELATIONSHIP WITH ARAFAT
Despite his high rank and honored status in the PLO, it was always clear that Arafat initiated political activities of the PLO and Qaddumi executed his plans. In recent years, Qaddumi has lost one responsibility after another to Arafat's other assistants. First, Abu Iyad took over ties with all the Arab countries but Syria (and after his death, Abu Mazin succeeded him in this portfolio). `Isam as-Sartawi won approval from Arafat in the late 1970s to handle all dealings with Israelis; since his assassination in 1983, other PLO leaders have had this portfolio. Khalid al-Hasan cultivated ties with American diplomats. Arafat's other assistants flew in and out of the capitals of Western Europe. By the late 1980s, Qaddumi had only limited responsibilities left: relations with the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Syria, local ally of the Soviets. Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Abu Mazin managed what was left of relations with Russia, and relations with East European countries became marginal. Qaddumi had basically just one diplomatic duty left: PLO-Syria relations. Losing so much power over the decades has saddled Qaddumi with a reputation for political weakness.
In his many disagreements with Arafat, he has never dared actually to confront the PLO chairman, but always backs off, eventually surrenders, and accepts the ruling of the organization. When the PLO had to evacuate Beirut in 1982, he urged Arafat to appease Syria's President Hafiz al-Asad by moving the PLO headquarters to Damascus. Arafat refused, the PLO moved to Tunisia, and Qaddumi accepted the decision. In subsequent years, Qaddumi often voted against Arafat's proposals, lost again and again, and yet did not resign his position. Journalists keep asking Qaddumi questions along the lines of, "How can you continue to be the PLO's second-ranking figure, being responsible for a policy you oppose?" His answers never have much substance. For instance, in the five-part Al-Quds series mentioned above, he replied, "As foreign minister it is indeed difficult to persuade people of a policy to which you do not subscribe." When the journalist pressed further, asking why he had agreed in 1994 to head the PLO's economic council, a body brought into existence to implement the economic clauses of the very Oslo accord he opposes, Qaddumi offered this weak reply: "I don't want to alienate myself completely from political activities, and my aim is to try to correct the drawbacks of the accord. . . . I am an economist by trade and I wish to serve the economy of our people in the West Bank and Gaza." Such answers do not enhance Qaddumi's esteem. "Only a good kick will get him out of his seat as the State Department head," jeer the Gaza staff of Nabil Sha`th, who for all practical purposes is the PA's foreign minister.
Judging by past experience, it is likely that Qaddumi will not go all the way in his battle against Arafat and the peace process. In spite of his harsh criticism of Arafat's policies, he is always careful not to divorce himself from the movement to which he has devoted his life. Palestinian officials do not take Qaddumi's recent campaign of opposition to Arafat too seriously, but they do believe it renders his inheriting the chairman's role very unlikely.
1 Al-Quds, July 18-27, 1995.
2 Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) was assassinated in a commando raid on his house in Tunis on Apr. 16, 1988; Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) was assassinated by one of his bodyguards on Jan. 16, 1991; and Khalid al-Hasan died of cancer in late 1994.
3 Al-Quds, July 25, 1995.
4 Reuters, Nov. 29, 1995.