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Abbas' U-turn on Syrian policy

March 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm

The Mahmoud Abbas government appears to no longer have any interest in siding with opposition groups in Syria. This is possibly because Abbas believes that his earlier policies towards the Syrian crisis have caused significant drawbacks to himself and to Palestinians in general.

The support would mean Abbas risks losing the Wests sympathy and financial support for the Palestinians. In addition to this, since the early days of the Syrian conflict Abbas’ ties with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime have been uneasy.

The failure of the Abbas government in giving public support for Al-Assad led to increased tensions between the Palestinians and the Syrians. This has been exacerbated by Hamas’ public support for opponents of Al-Assad which has led to the dismissal of some of Hamas’ prominent figures from Syria.

Moreover, Abbas’ initial stance on the Syrian conflict has led to the death and displacement of a large number of Palestinians in the Syrian territory. It has been reported that since the beginning of the Syrian conflict over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 200,000 have been displaced.

All of these circumstances have led Abbas to reconsider his policy towards the Syrian conflict. As Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh argued; the Abbas government has been attempting to remove the hurdles that it has placed in its relations with Al-Assad’s government.

Abbas hopes this move will cause the government of Al-Assad to forgive the Palestinian Authority (PA) for their failure to provide support and thus help improve the situation of Palestinians in Syria. This policy adjustment was indicated by Abbas’ speech that was delivered at the UN General Assembly last year.

In his speech, Abbas was trying hard to refrain from condemning Al-Assad’s regime for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In addition, he called for a peaceful and diplomatic solution, instead of an armed solution, to end the Syrian crisis.

Even though the Syrian regime appears to disagree with Abbas’ rejection of an armed solution, Al-Assad was satisfied with Abbas’ speech, particularly because Abbas did not hold Al-Assad’s government responsible for its use of chemical weapons.

Following the speech, it was reported that a meeting was conducted between a senior PLO official Abbas Zaki and Al-Assad’s government. The official news agency in Syria, Sana, cited Zaki as telling Al-Assad that the Palestinians will stand with Syria in the face of “aggression”. If this is true, the Abbas government has decided to provide its support for Al-Assad’s regime against any groups trying to remove him from power.

To implement his new policy, Abbas has also reportedly signed a secret pledge with the Syrian regime that Palestinian fighters will withdraw from Syrian rebel ranks, lay down their weapons and stop their attacks against Al-Assad and his government.

Abbas’ stance towards the Syrian government also appears to have been helped by Hamas. In recent times, Hamas’ prominent figures have stopped their rhetorical attacks on the Syrian government and it has publicly declared that it would not interfere in the domestic affairs of Syria. Furthermore, Hamas has also been detaching itself from the Syrian opposition groups, mainly those affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

It is important to note that while the reconciliation between Al-Assad and Hamas would serve the groups’ aspirations and offer it a way to rid itself of its increasing state of isolation, particularly following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the change of Abbas’ policy towards Al-Assad’s regime would not bring about significant benefits to either the Middle East’s stability or the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Abbas’ current stance towards the Syrian conflict seems not to have been able to improve the situation of Palestinians in Syria.

Al-Assad is unlikely to reverse his view toward peace with Israel to pacify Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas’ policy towards the Syrian conflict will only provide him a way to build stronger ties with Hezbollah, Iran and other movements that oppose peace negotiations with the Israel.

The author is a research assistant at Qatar University

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.