Palestine and Palestinians: The PFLP's Changing Role in the Middle East

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The PF LP's Changing Role in the Middle East, by Harold M. Cubert. London: Frank Cass, 1997. xiii + 193 pages. Bibl. to p. 224. Index to p. 235. $47.50.

Reviewed by Rex Brynen

In the past two decades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has faded from its one-time status as the leading radical exponent of maximal Palestinian liberation to the point of near political irrelevancy. Harold Cubert offers an analysis of that transformation and, according to the dust-jacket blurb, offers "penetrating insights into the political dynamics of the region."

Hardly. Instead, what is offered is a staid, uninsightful, and excessively formalistic treatment of the PFLP that could easily serve in graduate seminars as an example of both weak research methodology and how not to turn one's Ph.D. thesis into a book.

The core of Cubert's argument is that the PFLP's ideological rigidity, the class-based nature of its appeals, and the collapse of the Soviet Union all led to the growing marginalization of the movement. This is a fair enough assessment. However, in exploring this solely through the PFLP's formal policy pronouncements-ideological rote often boring and formulaic enough to send even the most stalwart PFLP cadres off into a deep sleep-he misses much of what actually went on within the organization. The PFLPSoviet relationship, for example, was far more problematic than PFLP affirmations of strategic alliance and the role of the socialist vanguard ever signalled. Indeed, both Fatah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had generally better relations with Moscow, a point that deserves (but fails to get) discussion.

Cubert's treatment of Fatah-PFLP relations is also wanting. Quite apart from any significant examination of such presumably important developments as the 1974 formation of the Palestinian Rejection Front, the PFLP's stance during the 1983 Fatah rebellion, the operation of the Unified National Leadership of the Intifada, or the debate over (non-)participation in the 1996 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, there is little sense of how a common Palestinian identity and Fatah's control over the PLO purse strings helped to maintain a connection between the two despite the obvious political tensions. …