Monday, January 26, 2009

One year after the death of George Habash 

The Angry Arab, a year ago:

George Habash was the antithesis of Yasser Arafat: he was honest, while Arafat was dishonest; consistent when Arafat was inconsistent; principled, while Arafat was shifty; transparent, while Arafat was deceptive; sincere, while Arafat was fake; dignified while Arafat was clownish; modest, while Arafat was arrogant; tolerant of dissent, while Arafat was autocratic, and on and on.

George Habash embodied an era that extended from the Nakba, or mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, until the ending of the first phase of the Lebanese civil war in 1976, when the decline of the Left, and the launching of Sadatism began. Up until that time, when a deep ideological transformation took place in the Arab world, Habash was a major actor on the Arab political stage. He was feared by Arab regimes, and respected and loved in the refugee camps....

If there is a world revolutionary symbol for the second half of the 20th century, it should be George Habash. He may not be widely known in 2008, but anybody who read a newspaper prior to the rise of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, when Islamism eclipsed the Arab Left, would know him....

It is often said that Habash's "Christianity" -- as if he was religious -- was the only reason why he was not the leader of the Palestinian national movement, instead of Arafat. I never agreed with the view. Habash's sincerity, honesty and integrity were the reason why he did not lead the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), while Arafat's "skills" kept him in power for all those decades....

The PFLP argued that the liberation of Palestine would be impossible without the liberation of Arab countries from the regimes imposed by the West and Israel. Looking to Vietnam, Habash called for Arab "Hanois," and stated that the liberation of Palestine passed through every Arab capital....

I last saw Habash a few years ago in Damascus, after his retirement. It was very sad for me because I had to compare the last image with the first image when I first met him as a high school student in 1977. His revolutionary impulse and his passions had not waned, but the empty office spoke volumes. The PFLP was almost dead, and Habash was politically irrelevant. I shared with him some of my criticisms of the Popular Front's long experience, and typically, he was open-minded and very democratic. I was bothered that he seemed too resigned to the rise of the Islamists (Hamas and Hizballah). In my judgment he was too uncritically supportive of both. "We have tried, so let them now try," he would say, "It is their turn." I was hoping to hear words regarding the revival of the Left but I did not.

More here. The contours of the conflict have been consistent, but they are becoming more and more and clear, and rigid: it is the U.S., Israel, and the corrupt Arab regimes, versus the actual Arab peoples, who are represented first and foremost by the Palestinians. First, it was the pan-Arab communist Left that attached itself to revolutionary sentiment; after Sadat and Arafat, et al., it is Islamism. In the aftermath of the Gaza terrorist war and with the rise of Obama, the conflict is entering a new phase. One thing Obama ought to know is that the Arab people are more behind the Palestinians than ever, just as they are more than ever aware of a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian-Jordanian conspiracy against them.


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