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Palestinians divided over conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran

July 3, 2019 at 4:16 pm

Palestinians burn portraits of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Gaza on 13 April 2018 [Ashraf Amra/apaimages]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack on Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia, describing the aggression as a criminal and dangerous offence against Saudi Arabia. The Palestinian foreign ministry endorsed Abbas’ stance and renewed its solidarity with Saudi Arabia against the Houthi terrorist attack. Hamas, meanwhile, remained silent about the conflict taking place between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region.

While the PA keeps reiterating its non-interference policy in the internal affairs of other countries, while maintaining a distance from all sides of the conflicts in the region so as not to lose the support of any side, it took a clear and frank stance following the most recent escalation, especially the war in Yemen. This caused it to fall into an unequivocal contradiction.

The PA has recently expressed its condemnation of what it described as “the terrorist attack carried out by the Houthi coup militias on Abha International Airport”, following President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of such a “criminal and dangerous act against the Saudi Kingdom”, while affirming that Palestine stands on Saudi Arabia’s side in confronting these attacks. Thus, Abbas called on the world to also condemn the Houthi attack and stand firmly in the face of such aggression and those behind the attacks in order to block their attempt to achieve their malicious goals.

The Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned in the strongest terms “the bombing and the missile attack on Abha airport in south-western Saudi Arabia”, stressing that Palestine supports Saudi Arabia in the face of this brutal aggression and in its fight against terrorism.”

This official Palestinian condemnation of the Houthi attacks means the PA has taken a clear and biased position in favour of Saudi Arabia, contrary to what it has been promoting about taking neutral positions away from engaging in the Arab and regional conflicts, while constantly blaming Hamas of getting involved in conflicts and taking sides in the region; an accusation which Hamas has always denied.

On the other hand, Hamas practiced a policy of silence toward Saudi Arabia’s regional conflicts: in the south with the Houthis in Yemen, in the north with Iran, and in the east with Qatar. This strategy was manifested in the step taken by Hamas by not issuing any statements of solidarity or sympathy for the Saudi Arabia after receiving painful blows from the Houthis, despite emphasising every time the need to spare the region the plight of internal conflicts and polarisations that only benefit Israel and the United States.

READ: Hamas is worried and silent about Saudi Arabia’s policy towards it

Hamas’ silence is a reflection of its rejection of the Saudi policy. Similarly, Saudi Arabia does not sympathise with Hamas and its political project in the region. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is waging a harsh campaign against Hamas, by means of boycotting, marginalisation and prosecuting its sympathisers and supporters inside the kingdom.

At the same time, Palestinian officials have not issued any statements or their position regarding attacks on Iranian territories, the targeting of its security forces, particularly in the areas of Ahwaz, or the bombing of its sites in Syria by the Israeli air force, which has increased in recent months becoming an almost daily practice.

The PA has been slowly converging with the Syrian regime in recent months, and could have issued condemnation statements against the attacks targeting Syrian territory, without mentioning the offences against Iran, which constitute a minor step in the prevailing diplomatic demarche employed worldwide. However, the PA has refrained from doing so to avoid provoking Saudi Arabia’s anger, especially as the Saudi side did not hide its support for the Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. Thus, some Gulf states even went to show a sense of understanding of the Israeli aggression by saying that the Israeli authorities have the right to defend themselves.

Hamas has issued several statements and positions regarding the attacks on Iran, internally and externally. Hence dozens of statements are available to the public on the movement’s website. As such, all these communiqués accuse the repeated military offences targeting Iran and Syria, considering these attacks a continuation of the belligerent Israeli acts against the Arab and Islamic countries.

READ: Why does Saudi Arabia describe Hamas as a terrorist organisation?

Hamas recently condemned the Israeli attacks on Syria on 1 July, considering such attacks as “a blatant Israeli aggression against Syria, deliberately killing in cold-blood Syrian people”, while maintaining that this criminal aggression against Syria and its brotherly people is a confirmation that the Zionist entity is the greatest danger not only to the Palestinian people, but also to the entire region. The internal crisis in the region and the continuous normalisation campaigns with the Israeli enemy, in addition to the disastrous workshop in Bahrain, have encouraged the occupying entity to commit crimes and violations against the peoples of the region and its lands and resources, and secured a formal cover for it.

Earlier in 2018, Hamas condemned what it called “the crime of targeting the Iranian armed forces in the city of Ahwaz, southwest Iran, which led to the fall of a number of martyrs and casualties, and offered condolences to the Iranian leadership and people as well as the families of the victims, wishing quick recovery to the injured, and that Iran and other Arab and Muslim countries enjoy security, stability, and safety.”

By expressing such positions publicly, Hamas was no longer trying to conceal its practical alignment with Iranian-led axis, despite verbally denying it. Indeed, Hamas is no longer objective or neutral towards the conflicts in the region, as it used to be for many years. Two years ago, Hamas’ leaders decided to adopt an agreed-upon central decision to further approach Iran and its allies, having felt the futility of staying neutral between conflicting hubs in the region.

Image of Hamas supporters in Ramallah, West Bank on 9 May 2017 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Hamas supporters in Ramallah, West Bank on 9 May 2017 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

This does not mean that Hamas has become involved in Iran’s regional conflicts, to which it has no strings attached. Thus, these conflicts are harmful to Hamas and the Palestinian cause rather than help the Palestinians and their resistance endeavour, which necessitates funds, weapons and support.

These different positions undertaken by the Palestinian political forces regarding conflicts in the region, especially the positions of the PA and Hamas, have shown how Palestinian engagement in the region’s conflicts is deepening their political division, which emerged since 2007. Similarly, those diverging opinions present Palestinian political leaders as opposing each other, being unable to agree on unify their stance. This can expose the degree of external infiltration and regional influence undermining Palestinian home policies.

READ: Saudi Arabia’s opening of jobs to Palestinians from Israel is a cynical political move

The Palestinians, who are the weakest party in the map of successive regional conflicts, may not be required to adopt a supportive or opposing position with Iran or Saudi Arabia, given that each position has its own price, repercussions and entitlements.

The Palestinians still remember the results of their political positions from the civil wars which took place in some Arab countries after 2011. Even decades before, the Palestinian leadership supported the Iraqi position during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and was forced to endure great political losses, which are still difficult to bear until this very moment; three decades later.

Although there are forces, states and powerful regimes in the region, which have more political and financial capabilities than the Palestinians, these entities did not issue positions from certain events, because they are aware of the consequences and repercussions that might follow such stances, so they prefer to remain silent. Such a strategy has proven to be useful to many countries in the region. Thus, Israel knows well how to make use of this strategy, as one can observe that the Israeli authorities take sufficient time to issue official positions toward a given conflict, which it may be already involved in creating some of its political and security specifications.

It is totally acceptable for the Palestinians to remain silent, not condemning an ​​event, denouncing another, and not supporting or standing by the side of any party, as the region undergoes continuous political, military and security developments on a constant basis. Issuing positions and statements about each development will be a burden for the Palestinians, at political and diplomatic levels, and they will be forced them to pay the price sooner or later; especially as the political and security polarisation in the region is growing and interacting every day.

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