In an interview with US journalist John K. Cooley, Habash identified the Arab defeat by the Zionists as "the scientific society of Israel as against our own backwardness in the Arab world. This called for the total rebuilding of Arab society into a twentieth-century society."
The ANM was founded in this nationalist spirit. "[We] held the 'Guevara view' of the 'revolutionary human being'," Habash told Cooley. "A new breed of man had to emerge, among the Arabs as everywhere else. This meant applying everything in human power to the realization of a cause."
By early 1968, the PFLP had trained between one and three thousand guerrillas. It had the financial backing of Syria, and was headquartered there, and one of its training camps was based in as-Salt, Jordan. In 1969, the PFLP declared itself a Marxist–Leninist organization, but it has remained faithful to Pan Arabism, seeing the Palestinian struggle as part of a wider uprising against Western imperialism, which also aims to unite the Arab world by overthrowing "reactionary" regimes. It published a newspaper, al-Hadaf (The Target, or Goal), which was edited by Ghassan Kanafani.
The PFLP had a troubled relationship with George Habash's one-time deputy, Wadie Haddad, who was eventually expelled because he refused orders to stop attacks and kidnapping operations abroad. Haddad has been identified in released Soviet archival documents as having been a KGB intelligence agent in place, who in 1975 received arms for the movement directly from Soviet sources in a nighttime transfer in the Sea of Aden.
After the eruption of the First Intifada 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"). The fall of the Soviet Union together with the rise of Islamism—and particularly the increased popularity of the Islamist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—disoriented many left activists who had looked towards the Soviet Union, and has marginalised the PFLP's role in Palestinian politics and armed resistance. However, the organization retains considerable political influence within the PLO, since no new elections have been held for the organisation's legislative body, the PNC.
The PFLP developed contacts at this time with Islamic fundamentalist groups linked to Iran – both Palestinian Hamas, and the Lebanon-based Hizbullah – a detour from its avowedly Marxist orientation. The PLO's agreement with Israel in September 1993, and negotiations which followed, further isolated it from the umbrella organization and led it to conclude a formal alliance with the Iranian backed groups.
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 Palestinian Authority, including the Palestinian People's Party and the Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza.
In the municipal elections of December 2005 it had more success, e.g. in al-Bireh and Ramallah, and winning the mayorship of Bir Zeit. There are conflicting reports about the political allegiance of Janet Mikhail and Victor Batarseh, the mayors of Ramallah and Bethlehem, they may be close to the PFLP without being members.
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.
At the PFLP's Sixth National Conference in 2000, Habash stepped down as General Secretary. Abu Ali Mustafa was elected to replace him, but was assassinated on 27 August 2001 when an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
After Mustafa's death, the Central Committee of the PFLP on 3 October 2001 elected Ahmad Sa'adat General Secretary. He has held that position, though since 2002 he has been incarcerated in Palestinian and Israeli prisons.
Attitude to the peace process
When it was formed in the late 1960s the PFLP supported the established line of most Palestinian guerrilla fronts and ruled out any negotiated settlement with Israel that would result in two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, George Habash in particular, and various other leaders in general advocated one state with an Arab identity in which Jews were entitled to live with the same rights as any minority. The PFLP declared that its goal was to "create a people's democratic Palestine, where Arabs and Jews would live without discrimination, a state without classes and national oppression, a state which allows Arabs and Jews to develop their national culture."
In December 2013, the PFLP stated: "Hamas is a vital part of the Palestinian national movement, and this is the position of the PFLP."
The PFLP's armed wing, in the West Bank and Gaza, the Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, draws much of its support from student organizations in universities like Al-Quds University (eastern Jerusalem), Bir Zeit University (Ramallah area), An-Najah National University (Nablus), and the Arab American University. The movement has thousands of active or passive activists in the West Bank, and a few hundred behind bars in Israeli prisons. In December 2009, around 70,000 supporters demonstrated in Gaza to celebrate the PFLP's 42nd anniversary. The PFLP's leader in Gaza is Rabah Muhanna.
Armed attacks of the PFLP
This is a list of armed attacks attributed to the PFLP. It is not complete.
The PFLP gained notoriety in the late 1960s and early 1970s for a series of armed attacks and aircraft hijackings, including on non-Israeli targets:
The hijacking of El Al Flight 426 from Rome to Lod airport in Israel on 23 July 1968. The Western media reported that the flight was targeted because the PFLP believed Israeli general Yitzhak Rabin, who was Israeli ambassador to the US, was on board. Several individuals involved with the hijacking, including Leila Khaled deny this. The plane was diverted to Algiers, where 21 passengers and 11 crew members were held for 39 days, until 31 August;
An attack on El Al Flight 432 passengers jet at Zürich airport on 18 February 1969, killing the co-pilot and wounding the pilot; an Israeli undercover agent thwarted the hijacking after killing the terrorist leader.
Three adult Palestinians and three boys aged 14 and 15 years old threw grenades at the Israeli embassies in The Hague, Bonn and the El Al office in Brussels on the same day, 9 September 1969 with no casualties;
Attack on a bus containing El Al passengers at Munich airport, killing one passenger and wounding 11 on 10 February 1970;
On 6 September 1970, the PFLP, including Leila Khaled, hijacked four passenger aircraft from Pan Am, TWA and Swissair on flights to New York from Brussels, Frankfurt and Zürich, and failed in an attempt to hijack an El Al aircraft which landed safely in London after one hijacker was killed and the other overpowered; and on 9 September 1970, hijacked a BOAC flight from Bahrain to London via Beirut. The Pan Am flight was diverted to Cairo; the TWA, Swissair and BOAC flights were diverted to Dawson's Field in Zarqa, Jordan. The TWA, Swissair and BOAC aircraft were subsequently blown up by the PFLP on 12 September, in front of the world media, after all passengers had been taken off the planes. The event is significant, as it was cited as a reason for the Black September clashes between Palestinian and Jordanian forces.
On 13 October 1977, the PFLP hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181, a Boeing 737 flying from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt. After various stopovers the pilot was killed. The remaining passengers and crew were eventually rescued by German counter-terrorism special forces see Mogadishu hijacking.
The killing of Meir Lixenberg, councillor and head of security in four settlements, who was shot while travelling in his car in the West Bank on 27 August 2001. PFLP claimed that this was a retaliation for the killing of Abu Ali Mustafa.
A suicide bombing in Ariel on 7 March 2002, which left wounded but no fatalities.
A suicide bombing in a Netanya market in Israel, on 19 May 2002, killing three Israelis. This attack was also claimed by Hamas, but the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades have identified the perpetrator on their website as one of their members.
14 April 2009, PFLP militants fire a homemade projectile at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, HaDarom.
23 October 2012, A PFLP roadside bomb detonated targeting an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) patrol near Kibbutz Kissufim, Southern, Israel. An IDF commander was seriously injured in the blast.
10 November 2012, PFLP militants fired an anti-tank missile towards Karni Crossing near the Gaza Strip, near Nahal Oz. The explosive device struck an Israeli Givati Brigade jeep, injuring four soldiers and destroying the vehicle.
18 November 2014, some sources stated that the PFLP took responsibility for the 2014 Jerusalem synagogue massacre in which four Jewish worshipers and a policeman were killed with axes, knives, and a gun, while seven were injured. The Israeli police concluded it was a lone wolf operation.
29 June 2015, the PFLP claimed responsibility for an attack in which Palestinians passed by an Israeli car with a vehicle and shot it. 4 people were injured, one was severely injured and died the next day in hospital.