Habash Founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Attempts to assassinate King Hussein I of Jordan exemplified a long list of actions taken by George Habash as the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that appeared in direct contradiction to Yasir Arafat’s overtures toward peace in the Middle East. Habash’s militant group consistently pushed the PLO toward extremism during his years as a member of both organizations.

Summary of Event

On December 11, 1967, Arab nationalist George Habash became the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a party he helped cofound and lead until 2001. In 1968, he joined Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), following the path of other Arab nationalist organizations, like Fatah, that comprise the PLO’s membership. Habash’s decision to join the PLO marked the entrance of one of the most radical elements into the Arab-Israeli conflict. Terrorist organizations
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Palestinian diaspora
[kw]Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (Dec. 11, 1967)
[kw]Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Habash founds the (Dec. 11, 1967)
[kw]Palestine, Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of (Dec. 11, 1967)
Terrorist organizations
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Palestinian diaspora
[g]Middle East;Dec. 11, 1967: Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine[09530]
[g]Palestine;Dec. 11, 1967: Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine[09530]
[c]Independence movements;Dec. 11, 1967: Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine[09530]
[c]Terrorism;Dec. 11, 1967: Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine[09530]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 11, 1967: Habash founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine[09530]
Habash, George
Arafat, Yasir
Rabin, Yitzhak
Hussein I

After the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, large numbers of Palestinians fled their homes, becoming refugees throughout the Arab world. The majority lived in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Having rejected an earlier plan for a two-state compromise in which an official Palestinian state would exist alongside the Israeli state, Palestinians became a diasporic people with no country and no representative voice. However, in 1964 the PLO was formed to serve as such a voice in the Middle East and in international politics. Forced in 1948 to flee his home city of Lod, Habash relocated with his family to Egypt. He was raised Christian and educated in the West, where he studied the revolutionary ideas of such ideologies as communism, Marxism, and nationalism. Notwithstanding his Western education, he was drawn to Arab nationalism, particularly ideas of pan-Arabism, a move he regarded as a necessary alternative for an Arab raised Christian and educated in the West. Thus, Habash combined pan-Arabism with his own interpretation of Marxism, emerging as a hard-line revolutionary who rejected compromise with Israel, the West, and those Arabs who sought to compromise with either.

Habash’s rejection of compromise with either Israeli or Western ideas was reinforced by his belief that such ideas were inherent enemies of both Arabs and Palestinians. He argued that it was the duty of Arabs and Palestinians to rise up in revolution and to advance the class struggle that Habash saw as the core of Arab troubles. He proposed that, although revolution would entail sacrifice and Arab suffering, it was the only way conclusively to end that suffering. Consequently, he was not in favor of concessions and was willing to take any necessary action to deter those he regarded as being conciliatory. He regarded conciliation as a betrayal; there could be no compromise.

Habash’s actions toward Jordan’s King Hussein I speak to this commitment to struggle without compromise and demonstrate the extent of his anti-Western and anti-Israeli sentiment. Because the PLO did not have a country from which to operate, it used states like Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as bases from which to coordinate activities against Israel. One of the first Arab countries to allow the use of its land by the PLO was Jordan. In Jordan, the PLO acted largely according to its own laws, as it did in other countries in which it operated with either tacit or official approval. It was accepted as the representative voice for the millions of Palestinians settled in refugee camps throughout the Middle East.

The organization acted with impunity, taking part in activities that not only affected Palestinians but also touched the lives of the citizens of the countries in which it operated. Still, Habash regarded the Jordanian authority, especially King Hussein, as traitors, and by 1970 Habash, with the help of his PFLP, had carried out two assassination attempts Assassinations and attempts;Hussein I on the king. Although these attempts were carried out under PFLP authority, they combined with numerous other terrorist activities targeting Jordanian interests to result in the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan.

The attempted assassination of King Hussein was only one of a long list of actions taken by Habash and his group that were in direct contradiction of Arafat and the PLO’s overtures toward peace in the Middle East. One significant example of this was Habash’s opposition to United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 Security Council Resolution 242, U.N. . Introduced in 1967 by British ambassador Hugh Mackintosh Foot, Resolution 242 proposed the creation of an international frontier between Israel and Egypt. Foot’s plan was proposed as a solution to the continued conflict between Israel and Egypt after the 1967 Six-Day War. During the war, Israel occupied the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the East Side of the Suez Canal. Resolution 242 stipulated that if Israel returned Egyptian land, the Arab nations would recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace.

Differences over the precise meaning of Resolution 242 arose immediately, as the question of how much territory Israel was required to cede back to Egypt became a matter of debate. Meanwhile, Egypt was determined to reclaim its lost land. It engaged in strategic strikes at Israel designed to drive Israeli forces out of the occupied territories. Sensing the possibility of another war, then-prime minister Golda Meir Meir, Golda lobbied the U.S. government for weapons and bombarded Egypt with responding strategic strikes.

In 1969, U.S. secretary of state William P. Rogers Rogers, William P. offered his solution to the stalemate: An international zone could be created between the two nations, bypassing the question of exactly which territories had to be returned to Egypt and making the fight unnecessary. Habash rejected this proposal as being a soft approach. He threatened to leave the PLO, taking his valuable contacts with him. Consequently, the Palestinian leadership sided with Habash and rejected Rogers’s proposal, and the fight between Israel and Egypt escalated into the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Habash regarded the situation as one in which Palestinians were always being called upon to compromise. He treated such compromises not as successes but as losses for Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular. He interpreted the solutions that were proposed after both the 1948 and the 1967 wars through the lens of his fundamental insistence that only a revolutionary class struggle would result in true victory for Palestinians and Arabs alike. Victory could only come when the influence of Israel and the West was completely removed from the Middle East. A compromise that preserved an Israeli state and U.S. influence in the region was therefore out of the question. Instead, Habash endorsed such extremist activities as terror attacks, including air hijackings and those activities that led to the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan.


Habash’s behavior reinforced his label as an extremist, epitomizing the zero-sum policy and the violence that have often characterized the Arab-Israeli conflict. His revolutionary rhetoric marked him as an idealist, especially in his unwillingness to adapt his ideological leanings to practical daily life. For him, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not merely a struggle between Israel and Palestine; instead, the struggle with Israel was the symptom of the larger problem of Western imperialist influence in the Middle East. Therefore, even though compromise could lead to a Palestinian state, the larger problem would be left unresolved.

Not surprising, Habash broke with Arafat when the PLO leader sat down with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo during the early 1990’s to discuss a solution for peace. Habash rejected Arafat’s attempts at negotiation with the man who had headed the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War. The Oslo Accords Oslo Accords , approved by both Rabin and Arafat, were both historic and symbolic, represented visually by the image of two former sworn enemies shaking hands. They called upon the PLO to denounce terrorism and resulted in negotiations for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank West Bank and the Gaza Strip Gaza Strip , representing an end to the zero-sum policy in which both sides had been entangled. They offered a framework for Arab-Israeli cooperation, supporting complete Palestinian independence under a two-state solution.

Arafat considered the state apparatus proposed at Oslo to be valuable for the Palestinian future. However, Habash did not agree, and, rejecting the compromise, he broke with Arafat and PLO. In the end, the process begun at Oslo was halted, and as violence escalated, Resolution 242 was reintroduced and became the basis for the tenuous coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Habash’s actions, particularly his rejection of the Oslo Accords, undermined the potential for peace, especially in the fragile period after Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination. He was arguably in part responsible, like Hamas, for the escalation of violence that followed, violence that halted the promise offered by Oslo.

Habash exemplified the necessity for leaders of organizations like the PLO to have firm reigning power over the actions of its members. His actions and their consequences lend some credibility to the notion that Habash and other radical PLO members may have forced Arafat to adopt a position of radicalism in order to remain in power and against his better judgment. Expulsion from Jordan was only one of the first instances of negative consequences to the PLO brought about by Habash’s statements and actions. A larger consequence was the protracted debate, both within and without the PLO, over whether that organization should be understood primarily as a militant (terrorist or freedom-fighting) body or whether it can or should function diplomatically as a negotiator for peace on behalf of the Palestinian people. Terrorist organizations
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Palestinian diaspora

Further Reading

  • Cohn-Sherbok, Dan, and Dawoud el-Alami. The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner’s Guide. New rev. ed. Oxford, England: Oneworld, 2003. A survey work, ideal for the newcomer to the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Written in part by a Palestinian national and in part by a rabbi, so as to offer as balanced and unbiased a perspective as possible.
  • Pappe, Ilan. A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two People. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Takes a historical tour in time, tracing the story of the Middle East to outline the rise of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism.
  • Robins, Philip. A History of Jordan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Provides an overview of Jordan’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, examining the impact of Jordan’s relationship with the various parties involved, particularly after the 1948 war.

Arab-Israeli War Creates Refugee Crisis

Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews

Palestinian Refugees Form the Palestine Liberation Organization

Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel

Israel Defeats Arab States in the Six-Day War

United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242

Meir Becomes Prime Minister of Israel