Inside Terrorist Organizations

By David C. Rapoport | Go to book overview

A Battlegroup Divided: The Palestinian Fedayeen

Th. David Schiller

On 27 December 1985, two hit-teams of the Abu Nidal group attacked simultaneoulsy E1-A1 ticket counters at the Rome and Vienna air terminals. The handgrenade and machinegun attacks killed 18 passengers and wounded 114. The locations of these terrorist attacks were well chosen from the standpoint of the attackers. The governments of both countries targeted had been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supported a negotiated solution to the conflict which would include the mainstream PLO. The choice of the Israeli airline counters as initial targets and the presence of Americans among the victims were of secondary importance to the masterminds behind the attack. In the queer logic of inter-Palestinian rivalries these acts were aimed at Arafat, meant to embarrass him in the eyes of Austria and Italy, the two European countries most sympathetic to the leader of the mainstream PLO. Furthermore, they were designed to disturb the ongoing joint PLO-Jordanian initiative.

To long-time observers of the Palestinian struggle, the Rome and Vienna attacks came as no surprise. They fell into a set pattern which had governed the actions and politics of Palestinian terrorist organizations for decades -- a series of splits, inner tensions and internecine feuds, for which nearby Europe has become a convenient battleground, presenting an abundance of soft, convenient targets with better media coverage than is available in the Middle East. In one way or another, these internal dynamics have dominated the fate of Palestinian nationalists since the 1920s, resulting in the repeated defeats of Palestinian attempts to gain a foothold in the battle for national self-determination. Viewing the current dilemma of the PLO from a historical perspective the observer is struck with a sense of 'deja vue': it has all happened before, and one is tempted to compare yesterday's warlords -- the Mufti, Abdel Kader, Abdel Rahim or Hassan Salameh -- with today's Arafat, Habbash, Hawatmeh, Abu Moussa and Abu Nidal.

The development of Palestinian nationalism can be analyzed into four stages which correspond to the widening of the conflict and its changing appearances:

I: 'Palestinism' or Palestinian nationalism (as opposed to pan-Arabism or the pan-Syrian movement) was first generated as a separate political element after the First World War in reaction to the British Mandate and Zionist immigration to Palestine. This coincided with the ascendance of a

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