Ahmed Sadat, the target of the Israeli siege on the Al Muqataa prison in Jericho on Tuesday, was elected General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)on October 3rd, 2001.
In January of 2002, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority under pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom and imprisoned in Jericho prison along with four other PFLP members accused by Israel of involvement in the 2001 assassination of far-right Israeli politician and Israeli Minister for Tourism Rehavam Zeevi. The Palestinian High Court since ordered his release, stating that there were no legal grounds for the imprisonment, but the Palestinian National Authority refused to implement the court’s decision.
In a 2003 interview, Sadat stated, "Since the so-called ‘Jericho Agreement’ placed us – the five prisoners – under the supervision of Israel, the U.S., the Palestinian Authority (PA) and England, the only way that we could be released would be to terminate the agreement. The PA cannot take this position, especially after the Israeli invasion of the West Bank in April of last year and the siege of Al Muqataa – the PA and Arafat’s headquarters. Now the PA accedes to all Israeli and American demands."
Palestinians, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have expressed outrage at the fact that US and British guards at the prison withdrew shortly before Israel’s assault on the prison Tuesday morning, which has resulted in the death of one prisoner and one Palestinian prison guard, as well as wounding at least eighteen prisoners as Israeli forces attack the facility with heavy mortar rounds and D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers.
Although the Palestinian Authority had claimed that their continued imprisonment of Sadat and the other four PFLP members was for their own safety, Sadat dismissed that claim in the 2003 interview, saying "I want to speak to the PA’s claim that we are being detained for our safety: this is utter nonsense used to justify the PA’s compliance and submissiveness to Israeli security demands."
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is a Marxist-Leninist, nationalist Palestinian political and military organization, founded in 1967. Named as a ‘terrorist organization’ by the United States and Israel, the group has claimed responsibility for guerrilla attacks on Israel in the 1970s, as well as several attacks on Israeli civilians during the current open conflict. But the PFLP has held to a ceasefire called last February by Palestinian resistance groups, even in the face of massive Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians that resulted in the deaths of over 200, two-thirds of which are civilians (according to human rights groups) over the last year.
The PFLP has historically been the second-largest of the groups forming the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the largest being Fatah), but now has only limited popular support in the Palestinian Territories. It has generally taken a hard line on Palestinian national aspirations, opposing the more moderate stance of Fatah. It opposed the Oslo Accords and was for long opposed to the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in 1999 came to an agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership on the pursuit of negotiations with Israel.
After the eruption of the First Intifada in the late 1980s and the subsequent Oslo Accords the PFLP had difficulty establishing itself in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At that time (1993-96) Hamas enjoyed rapidly rising popularity in the wake of their successful strategy of suicide bombings devised by Yahya Ayyash ("the Engineer"). Also, the fall of the Soviet Union together with the rise in the Arab world of Islamism – and particularly the increased popularity of the Islamist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – led to a decline in support for Marxist-Leninist organizations, and marginalized the PFLP’s role in Palestinian politics and armed resistance. However, the organization retains considerable political influence within the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), since no new elections have been held within the organization.
As a result of its post-Oslo weakness, the PFLP has been forced to adapt slowly and find partners among politically active, preferably young, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, in order to compensate for their dependence on their aging commanders returning from or remaining in exile. The PFLP has therefore formed alliances with other leftist groups formed within the PA, including the Palestinian People’s Party, the Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza. In 1990 the PFLP transformed its Jordan branch into a separate political party, the Jordanian Popular Democratic Unity Party.
Following the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, the PFLP entered discussions with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Palestinian People’s Party aimed at nominating a joint left-wing candidate for the presidential elections. These discussions were unsuccessful, and the PFLP then decided to support the independent Palestinian National Initiative’s candidate Mustafa Barghouti, who gained 19.48% of the vote. In the municipal elections of December 2005 it had more success in e.g. in al-Bireh and Ramallah, and winning the mayorships of Bethlehem and Bir Zeit.
The PFLP is powerful politically in the Ramallah area, the eastern districts and suburbs of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the primarily Christian Refidyeh district of Nablus, but has far less strength in the rest of the West Bank, and is of little or no threat to the established Hamas and Fatah movements in Gaza.
The PFLP participated in the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006 as the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa List. It won 4.2% of the popular vote and took three of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. In the municipal lists, its best vote was 9.4% in Bethlehem, followed by 6.6% in Ramallah and al-Bireh and 6.5% in North Gaza.