Time for the Palestinians to Choose Sides

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

At last the Arab League and the GCC have officially branded Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, a designation long overdue. Hezbollah is recognised as a mere tool in the Iranian expansionism box with no legitimate footing within the Arab World. Setting aside its bombings, killings and assassinations, it has suffocated Lebanon’s free spirit and fought for the survival of the Syrian gangsters whose hands drip with the blood of their own people.

This is rare Arab unity in action, although admittedly countries under the sway of Tehran — Lebanon and Iraq — expressed “reservations” while Algeria and Tunisia registered their objections. Arab-Israeli parties in the Knesset have loudly condemned the designation as one that serves Israel’s interests.

Hamas has taken the line ‘silence is golden’ on the issue, but its political chief Khaled Meshaal told France 24 that Iran is no longer a main backer of Hamas due to differing stances on the Syrian conflict. Meshaal’s main priority is mending strained ties with Egypt, which has accused Hamas of being involved in the assassination of its Prosecutor-General, so as to get the Rafah Crossing re-opened.

Other Palestinian groups have been more forthright in slamming Hezbollah’s branding. But where does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stand?

His position on Hezbollah is not at all clear. He is, however, more transparent on Iran. He recently revealed to Kuwait’s Scoop TV that “there are no official relations between us and Iran”, adding, there is an embassy and an ambassador “but they don’t have direct contacts with us.” He told the interviewer that the Palestinian Authority has “released a statement saying that we do not know anything about Iranian funds and we are not responsible for them.”

“I say to Iranians, ‘you want to engage in Palestine? Then you must do so in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority. If we have an embassy in Iran, why does it operate indirectly, through the back door?” he said.

He recalled his visit to Iran to meet with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who told him, “I love the Palestinian people” and said he responded saying, “No, you don’t love them. If you love them, love all Palestinians, not half or a quarter of them. Iran only loves Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

That message is ambiguous from a Palestinian leader who referred to Iran as “a sister country” just last year while announcing his plans to visit. Is he critical of Iran overall or is he angling for Iranian funding for the Palestinian Authority? In any event, he did not tell Tehran to stay out of Palestinian affairs.

It seems to me that President Abbas must acknowledge the new regional reality. Iran and its Lebanese satellite are inextricably linked and share the same hostility to Arabs, in particular towards Saudi Arabia and Gulf States.

In the current climate, fence-sitting is not an option as the Lebanese government discovered to its cost. We cannot be expected to continue giving our diplomatic and financial support to states or entities sympathetic to Hezbollah and Iran or hand in glove with either behind the curtain.

Throughout my adult life the Palestinian cause has been dear to my heart and in my youth I considered the Egyptian President Jamal Abdel-Nasser a champion for his efforts to free the Palestinian people from occupation. Our pockets were always open to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who despite his faults was a Palestinian patriot who devoted his life to liberating Palestinian lands. Unfortunately, he backed the wrong horse during the 1991 War with Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait when the Palestinians paid a price in terms of reduced funding.

Over time that hurt receded, but GCC States threatened by Iran’s push for regional hegemony may not be so forgiving if the Palestinian leadership plays both sides of the fence willing to shake hands with the devil in the hope of receiving handouts from our foes.

Moreover, Abbas was wrong when he told Ahmadinejad that Iran “only loves Hamas and Islamic Jihad”. Love does not come into it. Despite their flowery rhetoric and threats targeting Israel which never amount to anything, neither Iran nor Hezbollah care about the Palestinians and have done nothing tangible to help them all these years. They cynically use their affiliations with Palestinian resistance groups to bolster their credibility with Arabs.

In its early days Hezbollah wrote an open letter pledging allegiance to the Ayatollah Khomeini and vowed to turn Lebanon into a Shiite state. It has since re-jigged its manifesto to appear more benign. Its goals are Iran’s goals. If it is so concerned about the welfare of Palestinians why did it refuse to allow Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the right to work and own their own homes? And if Iran was serious about promoting Arab causes why does it oppress its Sunni minorities, including the Arabs of Ahwaz deprived of decent jobs, homes and basic utilities?

Author Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, rightly asserts in his book Treacherous Alliance that Iran pays mere lip service to the Palestinian struggle whereas its real motivation is the export of Shiite ideology.

With all my respect to President Abbas, who is obliged to walk a tightrope between the demands of his people, the Israeli occupier and militant groups, he cannot continue burying his head in the sand when it comes to the terrorist Hezbollah. He should publish a declaration disassociating Palestinians from Hezbollah and Iran and ideally close the Palestinian mission in Tehran.

My message to Abu Mazen is to stand with us and we will stand with you!

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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