Lessons of 2018 for Iraq and Palestine

Given the US administration’s current state of confusion, the situation in the region is not likely to change any time soon.
Thursday 27/12/2018
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Thursday, September 27, 2018. (AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Thursday, September 27, 2018. (AP)

What are the revelations of 2018 now that it is almost over? The first revelation of 2018 is the extent of the Palestinian decline that began in 2001, when two major developments took place: The first was the decision to militarise the Palestinian intifada and the other was the events of September 11, the so-called “conquest of Washington and New York,” as described by al-Qaeda.

There were two Arab victims of this so-called "conquest": Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. Arafat did not understand the consequences of continuing to militarise the popular Palestinian uprising after September 11, and Saddam Hussein did not realise that the world had changed completely and that there was someone in Washington who wanted to get rid of him, using the "invasion of Washington and New York" as a pretext. 

Saddam Hussein lacked even a basic understanding of regional and international equations. His insane adventure in Kuwait was the foremost expression of this fatal flaw, which eventually led Iraq to become an Iranian colony after the US occupation in 2003.

It would take a long time to enumerate the many events between 2001 and 2018 that brought the Palestinian issue to the political impasse it is at now. One major feature of that period was the rise of the far right in Israel. The current government of Binyamin Netanyahu is the most radical and extreme government in the history of the Jewish state. In Israel today, there are no more voices of common sense to question the morality and feasibility of eliminating the Palestinian people one day. Could it really be that easy to simply remove an entire population from the political map of the Middle East? 

There is no doubt that the current Palestinian leadership has played its part in eroding support for the Palestinian cause. Since Arafat’s death in November 2004 in ambiguous circumstances, the Palestinian leadership has closed on itself. Moreover, the current leadership is incapable of dealing with new developments and has consequently failed to gain momentum within the Fatah movement.

The Palestinian leadership does not have any sense whatsoever of the importance of connecting with media, international relations and communication centres in Washington. On the contrary, it has left the American capital abandoning it to Israel to do as it pleases. The result is that now, not a single influential voice in Washington expresses support for the Palestinian cause, a just cause of an entire people seeking their basic national rights.

The events that took place in Iraq have tremendously damaged the Palestinian cause, perhaps even more than the militarisation of the intifada, the rise of the Israeli right and the role played by Hamas in the service of Israeli policy. 

When the US offered Iraq to Iran on a silver platter, the balance of power in the region was profoundly disrupted. Besides gulping down Iraq, Iran has been successful in seriously infiltrating and dividing Syria and Lebanon. In Lebanon, Rafik Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005. It is no longer a secret who was behind his assassination and how Iran, through Hezbollah, has filled the vacuum left by Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanese territory.

In these final days of 2018, it seems useful to recall the newsreel of important events in the region. What we’ve learned so far is that the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 remains the most important and prominent event on the regional level since the turn of the century. A wise and far-sighted man like King Abdullah II was right when he warned former US President George W. Bush in August 2002 of the terrible consequences of the US occupation of Iraq. The Jordanian monarch was also very clear and precise when he spoke to the Washington Post in October 2004 of the implications of the "Shia crescent," referring of course to the Persian crescent stretching from Tehran to Beirut via Baghdad and Damascus. This happened before the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and we are now slowly discovering the real reasons that led to the bombing of his motorcade. The ultimate purpose of that assassination was to bring Lebanon to the situation it is in now. 

The decline of the Palestinian cause started in Baghdad. This fact of course does not absolve the Palestinians from the mistakes they made even before the American invasion of Iraq. They were easily-avoidable mistakes. Does this mean then that all hope for a just settlement based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is lost? It seems that this dream is progressively turning into a mirage in light of the balance of power prevailing in the region. As long as Iran keeps its clutches on Iraq, this balance of power will not change. Given the current state of confusion of the American administration, the situation in the region is not likely to change any time soon. 

The return of Baghdad to the Arab fold and the return of the Palestinian cause to the forefront do not seem imminent. 2018 has revealed the extent of the damage to the region caused by George W. Bush and his administration. The man insisted on invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam’s regime just because "God ordered him to do so."

What the Bush administration started and the Obama administration completed was the prelude to the Iranian occupation of Iraq. The entire region, not just the Palestinian people, is paying the price for Iran’s dominion in Iraq.