The Palestinians between the Empires

Many regional powers such as Iran and Syria are using the Palestinian question and the Palestinians as a pawn in order to achieve their own national interests. In addition, Al Qaeda has stated that their existence as a group is in part because of the Palestinian situation. The world has to give an ear to the Palestinian question in the Middle East and Israel must recognize that their current policy in the region is not helping, but actually exacerbating the situation. Israel needs good relations with neighboring countries and economic openness in order to be able to export their goods. If the U.S., Israel, Turkey and other regional countries could solve the Palestinian question there will be greater security in the Middle East.

One way that the Iranian government abuses the Palestinian question is that Iran provides weapons as well as logistical support to many pro-Palestinian organizations, such as Hezbollah. They also financially support the Lebanese Hezbollah organization in order to increase tension in the region, with the long-term goal of promoting Shi’ism in the region. In addition, Iran also builds and gives monetary support to many Shia centers in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Iran’s support of pro-Palestinian groups can not be viewed as just altruistic actions because there are deeper as well as historical reasons behind these actions.

The Iranian government wants to gain more power in the region. They want things to be like they were during the time of the Fatimid Empire. If you look closely at Iranian foreign policy, you can see that it follows the pace of the Fatimid Empire. During the Fatimid Empire, Persia (modern day Iran ) ruled the entire region and was the figure head of the Islamic world. However, when Saladin came into power in 1171, the Fatimid Empire was destroyed the power in the region shifted. Egypt was reintegrated into the Sunni world of the Eastern Caliphate and all future Islamic empires were all Sunni. Since the 11th century Shii people or Iranians have lost their political power in the Middle East. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire left an opening in the Islamic world and Iran has been working to be powerful like during the Fatimid Empire. Besides wanting to regain their influence in the region, Iranian clergy want to extend the influence of the Shia religious sect in region. If they are successful they will be able to provide/achieve political unity from Iran-Iraq-Syria to the end of the Palestinian border.

In Syria, the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, while the leaders of Syria are Shia. The Syrian government often uses violence against Sunni Muslims who have been non- existent in the political sphere. This has created a lot of internal tension. Even though the majority of Palestinians are Sunni, Syria supports the Palestinians in their struggle as a way to forge national unity because it brings Shia and Sunni Muslims in together in the name of freedom for the Palestinians. The Syrian government often uses specific incidents of Israeli violence against the Palestinians as a way to incite anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian feelings among their citizens. This helps to strengthen domestic unity and decrease internal problems, as well as to create Shii political unity with Iran along the Palestinian border.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire there has been no powerful Muslim state in the Middle East. As I previously mentioned, that is why Iran wants to regain control and be the most powerful state in the region. Increased Iranian power will be against Turkey’s interests. When the Turkish foreign minister, AbdullahGul,invited Hamas to Turkey, he wanted to be part of the Palestinian question not for the good of peace in Palestine, but in order to counteract Iran’s influence from spreading. Nobody understood Turkey’s invitation to Hamas - not the US, Israel Iran, not even Hamas themselves. Even the Turkish Media doesn’t understand Turkey’s policy towards the Palestinian question. What the Media needs to do is view AK Party’s efforts without secular glasses and then they might understand. Turkey’s Foreign Minister said, “We own the title deeds of Palestine”. He was implying that Turkey and Palestine have historical connections, since the time of the Ottoman Empire, and therefore the Palestinian question is not the business of Iran, Syria, or some of the terrorist organizations. In addition, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent his special envoy, Ahmet Davutoglu to meet with exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, to discuss the release of Israeli soldiers. I think that this can be interpreted as the Turkish government’s attempt to prevent the rise of Al-Qaeda as well as Shii movement in the region.

The leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, argued that he formed Al-Qaeda because of the unsolvable structure of the Palestinian Question. He often uses the Palestinian question as a reason for his terrorist attacks. This is why the world community has to solve the Palestinian question with Israel and other regional countries. No matter what happens, they must find a way to prevent violence in the region. If the violence against the Palestinians is not stopped, many more terrorist organizations will be formed.

Israeli policies against the Palestinians and pro-Palestinian groups is actually creating a breeding ground for more terrorist groups as well as enabling Iran to gain more influence in the region. If Israel wants to prevent further violence and the extension of Iranian influence, they must use a soft policy in the region. Every time Israel uses force they are just pouring more fuel onto the fire of extremism as well as inadvertently helping the other powers in the region to achieve their own national interests. Israeli military intervention in the region, such as Israel’s current bombings of Lebanon, only increase the budget of Hezbollah because the public outcry encourages nations such as Iran to give more financial support to these extremist groups. I think that Turkey could be a good mediator in the region because of their good relations with Israel as well as their historical relations with Palestine. For the sake of peace in the region, Israel should make Turkey part of the Palestinian question.

As I have demonstrated, Iran, Syria, and even Al Qaeda are not solely interested in the good of the Palestinians. They have consistently used the Palestinian question as an excuse or as a means of achieving their own interests. Israel’s policy of responding violently and forcefully against the Palestinians has only increased Iran’s control over the region, given Syria the propaganda that they need to create national unity, and finally thrown fuel onto Al Qaeda’s self-created fire of righteousness. Israel must begin to use a soft policy against the Palestinians in order to regain control of the situation and end the violence and terrorism in the region. This is the only way that peace will be achieved.

Fatih Seyhanoglu

Fatih Seyhanoglu is an Overseas Associated Member of CAEI (Argentine Center for International Studies). He worked as a journalist between 2002 and 2005 in Turkey. He has written many publications about Islam, Iranian discourse and dialogue, and Turkish and Arab Identity.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov