Image credit: Utopia Rossa. - Photo: 2018

Palestinians, Goodbye?

Viewpoint by Pier Francesco Zarcone*

ROME (IDN) – Sorry to say so, but the future of the Palestinians is darker and more bleak than ever, because the Sunni Arab countries have become disinterested in them and they have no powerful friends in the world. Today their loneliness is stronger and more evident, as even the residual veils of hypocritical rhetoric have disappeared among the Arabs could support them, having money and political and media influence. Let’s see why.

The so-called Arab Springs have been a total failure, not only due to the explosion of political Islamism (a phenomenon in respect of which the West has not remained extraneous) but also the political appetites of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, which have supported or fomented divisive events from Syria to Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Cynical realpolitik exercised with a spirit of power increasingly characterises the action of these countries which, moreover, are not faring well. Egypt has its own economic and internal security problems; in Syria the conflict is not completely finished; Iraq has to exit the ravages left by ISIS; Jordan counts for nothing and, furthermore, the king must think of the opportune balancing acts to remain on a throne with feet of clay.

In the Near East, the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts – with decisive interventions by Russia and Iran in favour of local anti-jihadist governments – have ended up involuntarily contributing to Sunni disinterest for Palestine, where Zionists are now doing what they want.

In fact, because of the outcome of the Syrian crisis, the concerns of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are addressed to Iran, a country which – despite its great internal problems – is objectively in a phase of political-military expansion. It has been able to realise the long-awaited “Shiite corridor”, that is a continuous group of friendly and neighbouring countries which, thanks to their religious connotation within Islam, constitute support for it. It is a corridor that runs from Tehran to Baghdad and Damascus, ending up in Beirut.

Iraq has a Shiite majority, Syria not, but power is in the hands of the Alawis who were recognised Shiites at the time of Khomeini and they have a debt of gratitude towards Iran for the military aid provided in terms of men and means in the fight against indigenous rebels and jihadist invaders; Lebanon has a large percentage of Shiites, of which Hezbollah is the military arm, covering itself in glory in the armed struggle against Israeli invasions, and is currently part of the ruling coalition.

It should be added that the Yemeni Houti – against whom Saudi Arabia has constituted a badly designed coalition in a vain attempt to eliminate them – are Shiites.

For the Shiites – persecuted or otherwise opposed by the Sunnis for more than a thousand years – this new politico-military situation has changed the picture of the region, creating fibrillations in other existing state entities with repercussions on the Palestinian question.

Perhaps it is not clear to us, but Arab leaderships know very well that anti-Shiite manoeuvres do not find enthusiastic support among the Palestinians. Sports fans in international competitions often express their moods: well, it was no coincidence at all random that in the football World Cup the prevalent support among Palestinians went to the Iranian team against Western teams and to the latter against the Saudi team.

On the other hand, the prestige and aid of Hezbollah and Iranians carries weight, so much so that in Gaza Hamas maintains excellent relations with both and flirts with Qatar and Turkey; moreover, critical positions are expressed in Palestinian social networks against the Arab petro-monarchies.

Especially in Saudi Arabia the rise to power of the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was the most visible point of the emergence of a young political class that was the bearer of ideas different from those of the old political class that had dominated until then.

Obviously we do not know if bin Salman will come out unharmed or not from the crisis inherent in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the disaster of the war in Yemen. Therefore the reasoning that follows applies to today, even if with an unknown factor: that is, if other young aggressively ambitious “royal bloods” will succeed in taking his place with the same mentality . It should be borne in mind that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, is a close ally of his Saudi counterpart, sharing his ideas.

Although the support from the Arabian peninsula to Palestine has always been more theoretical than real, the former Saudi leadership gambled heavily on the possibility that the rise of some Palestinian state would lead local pro-Iranians – perhaps with some financial help – to moderate themselves to a large extent, differentiating themselves from the more extreme faction.

It does not seem that this has happened and today the new emergents like the two Mohammeds believe that, all in all, it would be better that if the Palestinian state (currently clearly yet to come) not be formed or formed badly, there being the risk of seeing it become another pro-Iranian entity in the Near East. 

That the current Saudi monarch – Salman bin Abdulaziz  – does not think like his son is of little importance, given that he no longer controls the networks of power, and his statements in favour of the “right of the Palestinians to their own independent State and East Jerusalem as capital”  do not really change anything … for the moment at least.

Salman bin Abdulaziz became king in January 2015, and immediately his son Mohammed took over the reins of power by depriving all opponents in the previous entourage of authority, using methods to say the least bullying. And immediately Saudi foreign policy changed abruptly, from extremely cautious as it was.

It is true that, amid general indifference, a vast network of mosques and madrasas with a strict Wahhabi approach had been created in the world, which had spread this fanatical – but previously mostly irrelevant – current in Islamic circles; nevertheless, no disruptive and dangerous initiatives had ever been undertaken.

Then, in March 2017, bin Salman unleashed the war against Yemen and in June of the same year imposed the blockade on a Qatar not prone to his will. The Yemeni war has stagnated while reaping deaths and destruction, and the Qatari blockade has ended up making the emirate increasingly dependent on Iran for its daily survival.

It should be added that – again because of the intemperance of the Saudi prince – the influence of Riyadh in Lebanon (that is, on local Sunnis) has diminished considerably, so much so that the government with Hezbollah has not fallen. Finally, in Syria, Bashar al-Assad has remained in power.

These data are essential in relation to the fact that the entire policy of bin Salman is oriented by fear of Iran, leading Saudi Arabia not only into symbiosis with the Trump administration, but also willing to closer approaches with the other arch-enemy of Iran: Israel.

The collusions between bin Salman and Israel are always evident, because they occur openly, and recently even Oman also seems willing to recognise Israel. So even if by a miracle the Palestinian state were to come to light, it is easy to foresee that it would not receive a dollar of aid from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, because the opposite would mean, in the end, doing a favour to Iran. Many Western politicians – including Trump and his son-in-law Jarod Kushner – dream (or pretend to dream) that the opposite will happen instead, but as things stand it is just a dream.

The fact is that the new and young Arab leaders are pursuing only a strict political realism, leading to a radical change in the pre-existing basic cultural perspective. With regard to international politics, it had hinged on the close union between state interest and Arab-Islamic coherence, so that Zionism remained the enemy (even if with little activism against it) and defence of the Palestinians was an integral part of it. This picture no longer exists, and it cannot even be excluded that the new orientation finds consensus in part of the peninsula’s public opinion.

Now, regardless of the fate of bin Salman, it is obvious that the deterioration of the “Iranian crisis” will contribute to strengthening of the new political position towards Israel and the Palestinians.

In May 2018, bin Salman declared, with his usual brutality, that the Palestinians either make peace with Israel (obviously under the latter’s conditions) or they keep quiet. He also minimised their problem by declaring it “not top of the agenda” of the Saudi government, claiming for Israelis the right to have their land and ending up exalting the prospect of diplomatic relations with Israel.

The collaboration between bin Salman and Jared Kushner (senior advisor to and son-in-law of Donald Trump) has produced a pseudo-utopia of peace in which – more than the formal renunciation of the Palestinians to the “right of return” (the possibilities of which being realised are objectively zero) – recognition of Jerusalem as the only capital of Israel stands out: for the hypothetical Palestinian state, the capital would be Abu Dis, a village near Jerusalem!

Now even the Arab Emirates and Bahrain are willing to establish strategic relations with Israel in an anti-Iranian role. In fact, on May 12, a private (but not too private) meeting was held in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (respectively Yusef al-Otaiba and Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Rashid al-Khalifa) to strengthen the anti-Iranian axis in the Gulf.

These governments are also joined by Egypt, until now more cautious in highlighting its relations with Israel, although its military cooperation in the northern Sinai against Islamist rebels is well known.

This being the case, can we still talk about hopes for Palestinians in Palestine, beyond the miserable prospect of a sort of “bantustan”?

* Pier Francesco Zarcone, with a degree in canonical law, is a historian of the labour movement and a scholar of Islam, among others. He is a member of Utopia Rossa (Red Utopia), an international association working for the unity of revolutionary movements around the world in a new International: La Quinta (The Fifth). This article was originally published in Italian under the title Palistinesi, Addio? in Utopia Rossa. Translated by Phil Harris. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 November 2018]

Image credit: Utopia Rossa.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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