Salah Khalaf (1933-1991) (nom-de-guerre Abu Iyad) had to flee in 1948 from Jaffa. Trained in Gaza from 1951. Studied in Cairo in the 1950s, founder, member and Arafat's assistant of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) in Egypt (1952), Fatah founder member (1958/59), PLO's security and counterintelligence executive officer, alleged to have been the leader of the Black September Organization, principal Fatah ideologue, before being assassinated on January 14, 1991 in Tunis, PLO's third highest ranking member after Arafat and Abu Jihad.
He was born to a middle-class family in Jaffa, where he attended the Marwaniyya School and joined a paramilitary youth organization. Then, in 1948, his family was displaced when Israel was created; they settled in Gaza, where he completed his secondary education. In 1951, he enrolled in a teachers' college in Cairo, where he met Yasir Arafat. When Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Student Union in 1952, Abu Iyad served as his deputy, in 1956 he succeeded Arafat as president. In 1957, he earned a degree in philosophy and returned to Gaza to pursue a career in teaching. In 1959, he joined Arafat in Kuwait, where he obtained a teaching position. Abu Iyad became one of a select group of Palestinian activists who founded the Fatah movement. As a result, he left Kuwait to join other Fatah members in Damascus, which was hospitable to the Palestinian movement at the time. There he emerged as one of the architects of PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (PLO) policy toward Arab governments and helped the PLO establish ties with Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had initially been suspicious of Fatah's intentions.
Abu Iyad was considered a major leader of the leftist camp within Fatah. He was critical of conservative Arab regimes, particularly of their influence over Arafat. Like other founders of Fatah, he harbored some sympathy for the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. His leftism was, however, de~oid of any Marxist tendencies. His ideology, like that of Fatah as a whole, was ill defined, although he did prefer to work with the "progressive" Arab regimes. For him, the aim of the liberation of Palestine was a "clear thought" and ideology, although he did not (unlike other Palestinian leaders) feel the need for the elaboration of a political vision.
Abu Iyad was put in charge of security and intelligence, including counterintelligence, and in that capacity he succeeded in sending infiltrators to rival Palestinian organizations, including the Fatah Revolutionary Council, led by Abu Nidal. His intelligence work displeased some military cadres within Fatah, who thought he was intruding on their territory. Abu Iyad enjoyed strong support within the movement, however, especially among students, from whom he promoted such key leaders as Abu al-Hawl and Rani Al-Hasan. Abu Iyad's role in Palestinian activism extended far beyond Fatah: he protected Palestinian leftist groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when more conservative Fatah leaders recommended the suppression of rival Left organizations. He maintained close ties with the POPULAR FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE (PFLP) and the DEMOCRATIC FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE (DFLP) over the years and was often assigned to promote Fatah's views to other PLO organizations. Abu Iyad was probably the first PLO leader to declare officially that the movement's goal was the establishment of a "secular democratic state in Palestine" comprising both Palestinians and Jews-an idea favored by the PLO's left wing, which fiercely opposed the two-state solution until the late 1970s.
Khalaf's role within the Palestinian national movement became more important in 1970 in Jordan, where he advocated nonconfrontation with the Jordanian regime, although-in contrast with the PLO's right wing-he later refused to blame the PFLP and the DFLP for the massacres that resulted from the Jordanian war against the Palestinians. (Both organizations became easy targets for Fatah leaders, who avoided self-criticism.) Nevertheless, he was arrested by the Jordanian government and forced to issue declarations that did not conform to his own views; his comrade, Mohammed (Abu Yousef) An-Najjar, had to disavow his statements. Abu Iyad was later accused by Israel and the UNITED STATES of creating the BLACK SEPTEMBER organization and masterminding its violent operations.
Western publications also reported that Abu Iyad had hired Ali Hassan Salameh as its operational chief. The Fatah leadership, however, never admitted any role in the creation of that organization.
Abu Iyad's role in Lebanon made him one of the most famous Palestinian leaders. He used the relative safety of Lebanon to solidify his security and intelligence apparatus and to establish contacts with regional and international intelligence services. He often cooperated with European intelligence agencies to thwart attacks by rival Palestinian organizations, providing them with crucial information about Abu Nidal and his followers in return for diplomatic and financial support.
Abu Iyad was bitterly criticized by some Lebanese for getting too personally involved in the Lebanese civil war. He was not reluctant to take sides among the numerous warring factions and is best remembered for asserting, "The road to Palestine passes through Junya [a Christian town in Lebanon]." He favored a policy of active military and political support of the Lebanese National Movement, which championed the Palestinian cause in Lebanon. (Other Fatah leaders, including Arafat, were reluctant to commit PLO forces in Lebanon to the Lebanese National Movement's total victory.) As a result, Abu Iyad's relations with the Syrian regime deteriorated in 1976, when Syrian forces intervened in Lebanon against the PLO and its Lebanese allies.
In 1982, Abu Iyad opposed the withdrawal of PLO forces from Beirut. He assured Lebanese and Palestinian leaders that Israel would not dare send its troops into West Beirut, but his words did not calm the fears of those who had been exhausted by the Lebanese civil war. After the evacuation of PLO forces from Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Abu Iyad settled in Tunisia with other PLO leaders. He refused to join the dissident movement within Fatah in 1983, despite the appeals of the leftist leaders Abu Musa and Abu Saleh. Abu Iyad remained personally loyal to Arafat despite their many political differences. Like Arafat, he moderated his views in his later years and came to advocate face-to-face negotiations with Israel. He also made direct appeals to the Israeli public, and in 1988 he even endorsed peaceful existence with Israel. In 1990, Abu Iyad took another dissident position: he publicly disagreed with the PLO's support for the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990.
Abu Iyad was killed 14 January 1991 in the Tunis suburb of Carthage at the villa of Abd al-Hamid Hʾil (Abu al-Hawl) (the Fatah security chief - who was also assassinated that night). The gunman was identified by PLO sources as Hamza Abu Zayd, a guard stationed at the villa. Reports suggested that the gunman belonged to Abu Nidal's organization, although the PLO has never investigated the assassination.