The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was founded on December 11, 1967, with the union of two left-wing Palestinian organizations. Its leaders were Wadi' Haddad (who later became responsible for terrorist operations) and George Habash, the general secretary. The group was originally backed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser.
The PFLP is guided by Marxism-Leninism and, together with other left-wing Palestinian organizations, claims to be struggling to build a working-class party. Habash viewed the “liberation” of Palestine as an integral part of the world Communist revolution.
The PFLP charter lists six main sections and ideologies: (1) Revolutionary War is People's War; (2) Guerrilla War to Pressure for the "Peaceful Solution"; (3) No Revolutionary War Without a Revolutionary Theory; (4) The War of Liberation Is a Class War Guided by a Revolutionary Ideology; (5) The Main Field of Our Revolution Struggle is Palestine; and, (6) Revolution in Both Regions of Jordan.
The PFLP advocates armed insurrection and perpetrates media-oriented attacks, particularly the hijacking of planes, to bring the Palestinian cause to public attention. The PFLP hijacked Israeli aircraft in 1968. It abducted and threatened four American journalists in Beirut in 1981 (two from the New York Times, one from the Washington Post and one from Newsweek). PFLP members have continued to perpetrate terrorist acts through the years.
In 1971, under the leadership of Habash, the organization took a more pragmatic line. Nevertheless, the PFLP never agreed to recognize Israel and left the PLO after the acceptance of the “Stage Strategy” (June 1974) as adopted in Cairo by the Palestinian National Council. The PFLP opposed the Oslo accords and is critical of the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that it made its peace with Arafat and returned to the ranks of the PLO.
In May 2000, George Habash resigned as general secretary because of failing health and was replaced by Abu Ali Mustafa. Mustafa directed the organization to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel. He was killed in a targeted attack on August 21, 2001, in Ramallah and replaced by Ahmad Sadat. Sadat directed the assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi, Israeli Minister of Tourism (October 17, 2001). In the wake of Israeli and international pressure, Sa'adat was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and is today in “custody” in Jericho.
The PFLP's political leadership resides in the PA-administered territories and Syria, and a small operational-terrorist wing in the PA-administered territories (the Shaheed Abu ‘Ali Mustafa Battalions).
The PFLP's operational-terrorist wing is smaller than those of the other Palestinian terrorist organizations. It is party to the inter-organizational dialogues but refused to participate in the hudna when Abu Mazen was prime minister.
Today, the PFLP "aims to mobilize and lead the struggle of the Palestinian masses for the return to Palestine, self-determination, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. These, in turn, are steps along the path of defeating the Zionist entity, liberating all of Palestine, and establishing a democratic Palestinian state where all citizens enjoy equal rights, free from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religious belief. Beyond this, the PFLP aims at the establishment of a democratic socialist society."
Some of its more prominent attacks include:
- The hijacking of an El Al plane (July 23, 1968); 16 prisoners were released.
- Hijacking of 3 planes belonging to Western countries (September 6, 1970): Three commercial airliners were hijacked and blown up after the passengers were evacuated. An attempt to hijack an Israeli (ElAl) airliner was foiled. Three days later another Western plane was hijacked as well.
- The assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi (October 17, 2001).
- A suicide bombing attack at the West Bank village of Karnei Shomrom (February 16, 2002); 3 Israeli civilians murdered, 25 wounded.
- A suicide bombing attack at a bus station at the Geha junction in Tel Aviv (December 25, 2003); 3 Israelis murdered.