The assault on the Palestinian camps in Beirut ended in a truce signed in Damascus on June 17, which reflected the failure of Amal to defeat the Palestinian militias. The agreement also reflected Syria’s role in the battles by having the Palestinian side represented only by the Palestine National Salvation Front (PNSF). MERIP correspondent Mark Garfield visited Damascus in early July and spoke about the situation with Jamil Hilal, a member of the central committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and with Taysir Qubba, deputy head of political relations for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The DFLP is not affiliated with the PNSF; the PFLP is. Garfield reports that “conditions in Damascus are not conducive to discussing these questions openly,” and that Qubba’s remarks “certainly do not reflect the personal feelings of many in the Popular Front on the role of the Lebanese left or the host country [Syria] in the recent clashes.” Excerpts from the interviews follow:

What are the consequences of the Damascus agreement?

Hilal The problem is not with the ceasefire, which was necessary and welcome. The worrying aspects are twofold. First, that the agreement was made with the Palestine National Salvation Front, one Palestinian party as opposed to the Palestinians as a whole. This will be used to try to drive a wedge between the Palestinian forces. These contradictions can be used as a cover for breaking the ceasefire. We have called upon everyone to preserve the unity that was achieved among Palestinians on the ground, and to deal with the popular committees in the camps in which everyone is represented.

Secondly, the Damascus agreement implies the annulment of previous agreements between the PLO and the Lebanese government which guaranteed the right of self-administration and self-defense. The Lebanese state might use this to free itself from those previous commitments. We do not recognize this agreement as binding on the official representatives of the Palestinians.

The agreement states that the PNSF is the only Palestinian political leadership. Was this accepted out of the urgent need to reach a ceasefire, or is the PNSF seriously adhering to this position?

Hilal I don’t want to speculate about their motives, but this means ignoring the other groups. To be accurate, the other groups represent the majority. The PNSF was formed, with the help of the Syrian leadership, to oppose the policies of Arafat and to depose the present Fatah Central Committee. We have not joined the PNSF because we do not think this is the way to handle the internal problems of the PLO, or to pressure Fatah to annul the Amman agreement, which we agree is the main danger.

On the ground, as long as the PNSF participates in the popular committees in the camps, no great problems will emerge. If the PNSF tries to use the ceasefire agreement to claim leadership of the Palestinians, the majority of Palestinians will not follow this decision.

The Syrian government and the Lebanese National Democratic Front, which includes the Lebanese Communist Party, claimed the camp battles were a provocation by Arafat to cover his negotiations with Hussein and the Americans.

Hilal All the Palestinian organizations, including those of the PNSF, reject this allegation. The motivations behind the attacks were multifold. For Amal, the main motivation was to present itself as the strongest Muslim party in future negotiations for a Lebanese settlement. Maybe this explains why Walid Jumblatt and the Progressive Socialist Party took a positive neutral stand against the attacks, and gave moral support and protection to Palestinians in West Beirut. Also, those who launched the attacks wagered that there would be divisions among the Palestinians. They were surprised by the unity that was established on the ground between the supporters of the Salvation Front and the supporters of Arafat. They were also surprised by the positions of Syria’s usual allies — Algeria, Libya, South Yemen and even Iran. This forced Amal to postpone its ultimate aim, which is to end the independent Palestinian presence in Lebanon and to disengage the Lebanese issue from the Palestinian issue.

Where does the agreement leave relations between the DFLP and the PFLP?

We have not stopped daily discussions with comrades in the PFLP. The future depends very much on the lessons that they draw from the war against the camps. We have called upon all forces to study the necessary steps for unity, especially removing the primary obstacle, the Hussein-Arafat agreement. We have especially emphasized this to Fatah.

There is nothing in this agreement for the Palestinians, for objective reasons and irrespective of the wishes of Arafat or even King Hussein. The process will only lead to more and more concessions: Hussein will represent the Palestinians; there will be no independent state; the Palestine question will be obliterated; the PLO will be restructured to give more weight to the right wing and the big Palestinian bourgeoisie. This is the lesson of Sadat. But Arafat has been helped by the tactics of the opposition, the former National Alliance. Arafat has to bear the main responsibility for the situation we have reached, but this does not lessen the responsibility of certain Arab regional powers and the internal tactics used by, let me say, the infantile left wing on the Palestinian side.

The ceasefire agreement states that the Palestine National Salvation Front is the only Palestinian political leadership. Will this raise problems in the camps?

Qubba I don’t believe so. In Sabra, Shatila and Burj al-Barajna, they were chanting salutes to the Salvation Front when our delegation went there after the fighting. Even Fatah fighters and Democratic Front cadres said they were with the agreement and the Salvation Front. They told us not to listen to the leaders outside in Algeria or Tunisia who are against the agreement. The people are for it. But some leaders don’t take the interests of our people into account.

Is it the position of the PFLP that the Salvation Front is the only Palestinian political leadership?

Yes, we are the leadership of the Palestinian people until we guarantee the unity of the PLO on its anti-imperialist line, according to the resolutions of the Sixteenth PNC session in Algiers — until we achieve unity among progressive forces with an anti-American, anti-Camp David, anti-Reagan line, and until we cancel the Hussein-Arafat agreement. This doesn’t mean we don’t have our special relationship with the Democratic Front and the Palestine Communist Party. We have been in daily contact with them. But they must now decide with whom they want to go.

Why did the PFLP join the Salvation Front? The other PNSF groups have a history of hostility to the PFLP, which is the only organization in the PNSF with a geographically diverse base of support among the Palestinian people. The other groups primarily exist only in Syria and Lebanon, and some have no support whatsoever in the Occupied Territories.

Qubba It is very difficult to say who is who. If we say Ahmad Jibril doesn’t have support in the Occupied Territories, he will say the Democratic Front has only 100 members in Lebanon, and Abu Musa will say where is the Palestine Communist Party in Lebanon, in Syria, in Kuwait. When we decided to join the Salvation Front, we believed our revolution was in danger, from the upper strata of the bourgeoisie who want to divert the PLO toward the American solution. We can’t face this right wing alone. The majority of our people are not communists. We need to widen our base to face the main danger, which is diverting our revolution to reformism. The Salvation Front is stronger than any other Palestinian force. Maybe the others are stronger in Morocco, in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq or in Egypt, but they are not stronger than us in the Occupied Territories.

Was the PFLP surprised at the Syrian position during the fighting in Beirut?

Qubba Speaking frankly, we were disappointed — not because we had any illusions, but because the conspiracy in the camps is a danger to Syria itself. So sometimes we were impatient and asked loudly in which direction they were going. Still, we consider Syria the main anti-imperialist force in the Arab world. We would defend this regime with our guns — not because it is revolutionary or socialist but because it is confronting Camp David, Reagan and the Arafat-Hussein agreement. With the help of this regime and the Lebanese national forces, we succeeded in liberating Lebanon and expelling the Israelis.

The fighting in Beirut seemed to divide the Palestinian left from their Lebanese counterparts.

Qubba I don’t agree. They helped us without declarations, without press conferences. They helped us as unknown soldiers. They did their best to initiate and negotiate the ceasefire. This is their role. I don’t care about their statements. We know them very well. They are our comrades. They have their tactics, and their tactics proved to be correct.

How to cite this article:

"Palestinians in Damascus," Middle East Report 134 (July/ August 1985).

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