Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat today accused Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi of promoting rebellion against him, underscoring the growing dissension within the PLO and the Arab world over Arafat's leadership.
In Damascus, Syria, five mutinous leaders from Arafat's own Fatah faction issued a statement rejecting moves over the weekend to stifle the peaceful revolt by placing the dissidents under Arafat's direct command. The statement said the rebels aimed "to halt the continuing deviation in the Fatah leadership and step up the armed struggle against the Zionist enemy."
Arafat assailed Qaddafi after the radical Libyan leader told a rally in his capital yesterday that the PLO rebels had his "material and moral support . . . in order that the Palestinian resistance may resume its leading role of liberation." Addressing his forces in the PLO's northern Lebanese stronghold of Tripoli, Arafat said that Qaddafi "declared yesterday that he will cause a split in the Palestine revolution."
"Is he going to succeed where President Reagan has failed?" Arafat asked rhetorically. "Of course not. Reagan's agent won't succeed." At a rally last night in Tripoli, Arafat said of Qaddafi, "I swear to cut out his tongue."
Arafat long has walked a tightrope between the PLO's radical and moderate wings--at the expense of providing effective leadership for either, according to his critics. But the three-week-old outbreak of dissent constitutes the most serious challenge to Arafat in recent years within Fatah, his power base and the PLO's largest faction.
The revolt was sparked by appointment of Arafat loyalists to command positions in Lebanon, where between 6,000 and 8,000 PLO forces are stationed behind Syrian lines. The dissidents, who have a base in the northeastern Lebanese city of Baalbek, claimed that the appointees had performed poorly in resisting Israel's invasion of Lebanon last summer.
Other issues also have arisen as the rebels accused Arafat of abandoning the strategy of armed struggle against Israel. The dissidents specifically have criticized Arafat for holding now-aborted talks with Jordan's King Hussein aimed at allowing the monarch to enter peace negotiations under the auspices of Reagan's Middle East peace initiative.
The mutineers also have charged that Arafat's appointment of loyalists was aimed at paving the way for a PLO withdrawal from Lebanon as part of an eventual agreement for a pullout of Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian forces. They have demanded explicit assurances that there will not be a withdrawal.
The rebellion reflects divisions in the Arab world over Reagan's Sept. 1 initiative and this month's Lebanese-Israeli agreement providing for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon when Syrian and PLO forces also agree to leave. Syria and Libya have led the opposition to the Reagan plan and the Lebanese-Israeli accord, while Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other moderate states have been far less critical.
In one sign of Arafat's tense relations with Libya, the Libyan government on May 10 said it had arrested a Palestinian member of Fatah who had been recruited by the CIA to murder Qaddafi.
On the moderate side, Jordan's Hussein has moved to close Jordan's open door to West Bank Palestinians in the aftermath of the collapse of his talks with Arafat on the Reagan plan. The Jordanian action reportedly is aimed at inducing the Palestinians to demand a softening of the PLO's position.
Feeling the pressure from both wings, Arafat described himself in Tripoli as being caught "between the hammer and the anvil."
Despite repeated assertions by Arafat and his deputies that the PLO rebellion has been quelled, the dissidents' statement today showed that it has not. The statement by the five officers leading the mutiny--four colonels and a major--said they would not follow orders issued by the Fatah central committee placing them under Arafat's command and forbidding PLO fighters from having contact with them.
At the same time, Arafat has appeared to offer the rebels a concession by promising to hold a meeting of the Fatah leadership to map out strategy as they had demanded.