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The Palestinians need balance in their international alliances

October 20, 2022 at 2:54 pm

Palestinians hold banners and Palestinian flags gather during a protest against US President Joe Biden’s support for Israel at Unknown Soldier Memorial Park in Gaza City, Gaza on July 14, 2022. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

Since the founding of Israel in the Middle East in 1948, the US has played a significant role in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, including politics. For most of the Cold War, the US tried to maintain the balance of power in the region and not to disappoint the Arab nations in favour of Israel. Beside this containment policy, the US was aware of the importance of maintaining cordial relations with the Arab nations. Successive US administrations have made engagement with the Arab states a priority in Middle East policy.

However, Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War brought significant changes in that policy, as Washington started to realise Israel’s potential as a strategic player in the region vis-à-vis the Arab world. The US-Israel strategic alliance took shape and Israel’s security became the core of America’s regional foreign policy. As a result, a diplomatic alliance between the Palestinians and the US rose in importance.

America places importance on its diplomatic alliance with the Fatah movement in order to find a resolution to the conflict in line with its foreign policy with the objective of protecting its own national interests and its allies, especially Israel. Oil and energy security are central, as is the security of the important Suez Canal. This all saw the “terrorist” designation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation of the 1970s and 80s put to one side when Washington found in Yasser Arafat a willing partner for peace in the 1990s.

The Palestine-US alliance is a major strategy for the Palestinians to build an official relationship with Israel. Palestine as represented by the PLO first, which is controlled by Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority post-Oslo, which is also controlled by Fatah, came to believe that the US could mediate to resolve the conflict by the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The US administration of President Jimmy Carter ended decades’ long enmity between Egypt and Israel through the Camp David Accords in 1978. This was followed by the Oslo Accords in 1993, mediated by President Bill Clinton between Israel and the PLO. In the following year, a treaty materialised between Israel and Jordan. While the Palestinians waited for their state and the other supposed benefits of Oslo to become reality, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, which was a setback for the Accords.

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The peace process has faced a number of challenges, with opposition from Hamas, resistance attacks in Israel, the Second Intifada in 2000, the Hamas election victory in 2006 — the result of the “free and fair” democratic election was not accepted by Fatah and Israel and its allies — and changes in US policy. The two-state framework was supported by US Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama, but was abandoned by President Donald Trump and his “Deal of the Century”. In 2020, Trump was behind the normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and then Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Most Palestinians are frustrated with the US administration and these Arab states for abandoning their cause, as they see it. The alliance between Fatah — now controlling the Palestinian Authority as well as the PLO — and the US has ruptured ever since. According to PA, PLO and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinians no longer trust the US as an honest broker for peace.

At the moment, the PA is trying to form a new alliance with Russia, another important player in the Middle East. During the Cold War, the former Soviet Union supported the Arab nations in the conflict with Israel. In recent years, its involvement has been as a member of the international Middle East Quartet: Russia, the US, the European Union and the UN. Moscow’s position on Palestine has strengthened since Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year. Israel has an unfavourable position in Moscow’s foreign policy because it is an ally of the US; has strategic ties with NATO; has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and is thinking about supplying weapons to Ukraine given that Iran has apparently supplied Russia with drones.

The meeting between Abbas and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week saw the PA-Fatah-PLO leader voice appreciation of Russia’s role in the Quartet. He also expressed his mistrust of the US in efforts to resolve the conflict. Putin said Russia wants a just settlement in the Israel-Palestine conflict in line with UN resolutions.

How far can an alliance with Russia benefit Palestine? Russia may use it as a strategic issue against US supremacy in the Middle East. Moscow used the Israel-Palestine conflict to respond when Israel condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine as a violation of the international order. Russia also has allies in the Middle East, namely Syria and Iran, whereas most Arab nations are aligned with the US for security and economic reasons. Aside from everything else, though, the PA needs the Middle East Quartet to broker the peace process.

The PA also needs to compete with Hamas in building a strong alliance with Russia; the Islamic Resistance Movement forged a strong relationship with Moscow before the PA did. Indeed, Hamas has such a relationship with Russia that it was able to obtain Russian-made Strela anti-aircraft missiles to tackle Israel’s fighter. The Hamas-Russia alliance is no surprise, given the supposed Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah “axis of resistance”. The movement may not have direct links, but can approach Moscow through the axis.

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Hamas has nothing to lose and everything to gain from this “marriage of convenience” with the Russians, whereas the PA under Abbas needs to use its rational judgement in any alliance with Moscow, not least because the PA gets considerable financial support from the US. US President Joe Biden plans to provide $235 million of aid to the Palestinians through the Fatah-controlled administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hence, any alliance between Ramallah and Moscow risks losing support from the US and its allies, especially the EU. Similarly, the PA risks alienating supporters around the world as long as Russia is embroiled in its own war in Ukraine.

The Palestinians should, therefore, look to developing relationships with all powers to achieve their goals; they need balance in their international alliances. For this, skilful diplomacy is essential if the Palestinian struggle is to stand any chance of success.

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