The origins of the predominance of President Yasir Arafat's Fatah organization in the Palestinian Authority and its rivalry with the Islamist movements can be located in a time well before the implementation of the Oslo Accords. Fatah's networks of patronage, which provide the organization with an underpinning for its current influence in the occupied territories, began to take shape in the mid-1970s.(1) It was then that the organization began to gain ascendancy in key political, administrative, and voluntarist associations in the West Bank. This ascendancy came at the expense of the left wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Jordanian Communist Party, thus opening the field to more conservative elements in Palestinian political life.(2)
The reasons for this shift in the relative influence of the conservative and leftist tendencies in Palestinian politics is to be found first in local Palestinian circumstances. Yet, the West Bank's political life was so-completely penetrated by outside interests that it is impossible to understand such changes without reference to Super Power rivalries, inter-Arab relations, and intra-PLO affairs.
This intensity of penetration by outside actors has been one of the distinguishing characteristics of Middle Eastern affairs since the time of the nineteenth-century Eastern Question. L. Carl Brown explains that, "the degree of penetration is perhaps best measured by the extent to which differences between local, national, regional, and international politics become blurred. That is, the politics of the thoroughly penetrated society is not explained - even at the local level - without reference to the intrusive outside [international] system."(3) The Palestine National Front (PNF) provides a case study of the consequences of this kind of intertwining of international and local affairs.
SOVIET POLICY AND THE PNF
Following the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Soviet Union turned its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East toward achieving a comprehensive resolution of the conflict. The ultimate goal of this diplomacy was to secure for the Soviets continued influence in the region by virtue of their role as one of the internationally recognized guarantors of the peace. This was part of a wider strategy in the early 1970s to reduce the risk of confrontation with the United States, especially as the US began to develop friendlier relations with the Soviets' communist rival, China.(4)
The Soviet vision of a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict called for an international conference based on UN resolution 242, Palestinian representation at the conference, and Israeli withdrawal from the land occupied in 1967. After 1974, Soviet official statements reflected the resolutions passed at the Rabat Arab summit conference that year, referring specifically to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but the possibility of a large role for Jordan in determining the fate of the territories was not ruled out.(5)
Thus, the occupied territories were a central concern in Soviet policy because it envisioned a two-state solution to the conflict. However, the PLO consistently refused until 1988 to support anything less than the complete liberation of Palestine, thereby blocking a two-state solution. It was in this context that the establishment of the Palestine National Front in the occupied territories in 1973 carried importance for Soviet foreign policy. Because the PNF considered itself an arm of the PLO and contained members of the Jordanian Communist Party (JCP), there was hope that the Soviets would be able to influence PLO policy through the PNF.6 More importantly, the PNF became instrumental in national institution building in the occupied territories. This proffered the possibility that the groundwork for a Palestinian state was in fact being laid, with the actuality on the ground leading events in the diplomatic realm. Such a development, with the participation of local, pro-Soviet activists, would have strongly supported Soviet diplomatic efforts and enhanced Soviet regional influence.
At least one scholar has claimed that the initiative for the establishment of the PNF came from the Soviet Union.(7) Others have placed emphasis on resolutions of the PLO which were made outside the territories,(8) Even Arabi Awwad, a member of the PNF, has supported this second view.(9) However, the forum in which he made this assertion was first and foremost an occasion for affirming Palestinian unity across geographical, political, and ideological divisions as resolved at the Fourteenth Palestinian National Conference (PNC).(10) At the time, some within the PLO doubted the communists' commitment to the nationalist enterprise, suspecting that they intended to develop the PNF as an alternative to the PLO in the territories. It was feared that the PNF would make a separate peace with Israel, thus leaving the Palestinians in the Diaspora permanently stateless. Awwad's comments were intended to dispel these suspicions and affirm his recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians.(11)
It is true that the decisions of the Tenth (1972) and Eleventh (1973) PNCs placed a new emphasis on political organization within the territories in order to resist absorption by either Israel or Jordan.(12) Despite this fact, there can be little doubt that the decision to form the PNF came from within the territories, before the October War.
A PNF activist, Ibrahim Dakkak, relates that representatives of the Jordanian Communist Party and nationalists from Gaza and the West Bank met in East Jerusalem early in 1972 and agreed on the need to establish the From. The JCP members were charged with writing the draft program. Copies of the program were later distributed to "select personalities," and, in the summer of 1972, representatives of the Front traveled to Amman, Damascus, and Beirut for consultations with various Palestinian organizations. The PNF published its program in the territories on 15 August 1973. The following November, in the wake of the war, the PNF's Central Committee met for the first time, revising a draft of a letter to the executive committee of the PLO.(13)
The timing of the meeting of the PNF's preparatory committee in 1972 corresponded roughly with the expulsion of the Soviet military from Egypt in July of the same year. As a result of the setback in Egypt, and of the 1971 coup in the Sudan with its consequent crackdown on Sudanese communists, the Soviets increased their efforts to promote national front governments which included communist elements. Also, in an attempt to compensate for their lost position in Egypt, the Soviet Union hosted a PLO delegation headed by Yassir Arafat.(14) Thus, the Soviets were moving closer to the PLO and promoting the national from idea as the PNF was first being organized in the territories.
It was not completely novel that the Jordanian Communist Party would take a leading position in a Palestinian national front movement. The origins of the JCP itself were with the National Liberation League (NLL), a communist-led national front which was active in the final years of the Palestine Mandate.(15) The League continued its activities in the West Bank under Jordanian rule and, in 1951, became the Jordanian Communist Party. Although illegal in Jordan as either the NLL or the JCP, the communists remained active through various front organizations. They were forced further underground when the Jordanian government banned all political parties in 1957 in response to the wave of anti-imperialist enthusiasm which swept the Arab world after the Suez War.(16)
In the period of underground activity, the JCP developed two wings. One, led by Fahmi al-Salfiti, adopted an accommodationist policy toward the Jordanian regime. A1-Salfiti denigrated the method of armed struggle generally, and particularly disdained Fatah, which he considered to have been influenced by the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood.(17) The second wing of the movement, under Fu'ad Nassar, favored guerrilla activities, and, in 1969, formed the commando organization al-Ansar, which survived only three years before being disbanded.(18)
After the Israelis occupied the West Bank in June 1967, occupation authorities considered Jordanian law to be the law of the land and selectively applied the 1957 ban on political parties as the political situation dictated.(19) Through the early 1970s, the Israelis tolerated the communists' existence and …