Yemen conflict deepens Palestinian sense of isolation

Friday 17/04/2015
Fighting irrelevance

Ramallah - With attention on the Middle East focused on a nuclear deal with Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, many Palestinians feel the world has abandoned them and put their quest to end Israel’s prolonged occupation of their land on the backburner.
Some Palestinians grew frus­trated when predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab governments hastily formed a force to answer to a call from regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia to fight the Houthis, a Shia rebel force in Yemen backed by Iran.
“Why aren’t Arab armies in the Holy Land of Palestine?” screamed a banner at a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah earlier this month.
“We’ve been under occupation for decades. Where is the Arab mili­tary force to liberate our lands and defend Gaza?” asked Baraa Qadi, 23, a university student.
Gaza has been the target of sev­eral Israeli military offensives that killed thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, and resulted in widespread destruction of the coastal strip.
Qadi scoffed at Arab armies, de­scribing them as “the arms of the United States in the region”.
Despite popular frustration, Pal­estinian politicians said they un­derstood Arab priorities. But with war and instability rife across the region, the best thing Palestinians can do for now is to resolve their own internal divisions, said politi­cal analyst Ahmed Rafiq Awad.
Most significantly is a long-antic­ipated reconciliation between mili­tant Hamas rulers in Gaza and Fa­tah, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank.
“The internal reconciliation be­tween Fatah and Hamas is a must and both parties must pay a price for that,” Awad told The Arab Week­ly, underlining the need also for “re­shaping the relationship with Israel and internationalising the Palestin­ian issue”.
In the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran, Awad said he expected Islamist factions in the Palestinian territories sympathetic to Iran to re­main quiet.
“Iran will be interested to main­tain a lull after the initial deal, un­til the end of June, so would those groups,” he said.
A senior Palestinian politician suggested it “may be the time for a diplomatic Palestinian campaign at international platforms” — a refer­ence to Palestinians seeking a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to Israel’s occupation and taking Israel to court for crimes they say the Jewish state commit­ted against Palestinians.
“We need to reserve a place be­fore the deal is finalised in June,” he told The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, citing political sensi­tivities. Iran and six world powers have pledged to finalise their deal over Tehran’s nuclear programme by June.
Palestinians feel isolated and are struggling to remain on the growing list of Arab priorities. A deepening sense of isolation and desperation from the peace process with Israel arguably triggered the Palestinian Authority’s latest effort to push its cause further in international plat­forms and join UN bodies, such as the International Criminal Court.
Still, Arab disengagement is a stumbling block. “The occupation is a main factor of breeding terror­ism in the region, yet Palestine was not invited to the counter-terrorism conference in Jeddah last Septem­ber,” recounted PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majda­lani.
Majdalani said the Palestinian issue remained part of the Arabs’ political rhetoric but that verbal commitment failed to translate into tangible support.
“Since the first Gulf War in 1990, the world system changed from multi to unipolar, mainly domi­nated by the US,” he told The Arab Weekly, explaining that the change posed a new agenda and limited the traditional role of Arab heavy­weights.
At the Arab Summit in Sharm el- Sheikh in late March, the Palestin­ian president cautiously supported the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes on Yemen, clearly to be in line with a unanimous consent among oil-rich Gulf Arabs, his traditional bankrollers.
Fresh in his mind was when late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat supported Iraq in the wake of its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and because of this support, his people, politics and treasury suf­fered from being blackballed by the Gulf Arabs.
Majdalani said Israel was not necessarily seen as a direct threat to the Arabs these days. Instead, he charged, “Arab countries deem Iran and Turkey a threat to their na­tional security, which explains their waning interest in the Palestinian issue.”
The senior Palestinian politician emphasised his leadership believes it should move ahead with its own plans, including the freedom to de­cide on future negotiations with Is­rael, including redefining the shape of security coordination between them. “The best thing we can hope for is to avoid pressures from Arab states,” Majdalani said.
The Palestinians often say Arabs repeatedly preached at them about self-restraint in the face of Israeli intransigence in peacemaking.
Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which began in 1993, stalled over fateful issues, primarily the right of Palestinian refugees to return home and the status of traditionally Arab East Jerusalem.