Yemen conflict deepens Palestinian sense of isolation
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.