The Palestinian Secular Opposition at a Crossroads
Among the more important developments on the internal Palestinian scene in recent months have been efforts to close Palestinian ranks in anticipation of the final status talks. At the same time, there has been a growing realization within the Palestinian opposition based in Damascus that criticism of Oslo has not brought forth meaningful results.
It is within this context that the two leading organizations of the Palestinian secular opposition -the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)- opened separate, parallel dialogues with Fatah aimed at finding new bases for a common Palestinian position and revitalizing PLO institutions. The dialogues, ongoing since August, have included preparatory and follow-up discussions as well as several high-profile meetings at the highest level: Fatah's delegation has been led by Yasir Arafat, that of the PFLP by Abu Ali Mustafa, acting head of the organization who is expected to succeed George Habash at the next PFLP conference, and the DFLP delegation by Secretary General Nayif Hawatimah. Although, as is clear from the interviews below, the other opposition groups were involved in discussions concerning the dialogue with Fatah, the representatives of the PFLP and the DFLP were expelled from the Damascus-based opposition's Supreme National Follow-Up Committee when the dialogue actually began. By early December 1999, no real progress with regard to the "dialogues" had been reported, though contacts continued.
The following interviews were conducted in Damascus on 19 and 20 September by Mahmoud Soueid, director of the Institute for Palestine Studies's Beirut office and co-editor of its quarterly, Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filistiniyah, and by Ahmad Khalifeh, managing editor of MDF. Published in longer versions in MDF's autumn issue, they provide insight into the state of the leading oppositional forces today, their policy differences and attitudes toward each other and the peace process, and their differing attitudes toward, and expectations concerning, the dialogue.