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Palestine Observer State in the Light of Regional Groupings

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hassan Ahmadian
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tehran and Expert on Middle East Issues

Palestine has finally achieved the legal status of an observer state at the United Nations after six decades of struggles. One day after Palestine achieved its new legal status [Head of the Palestinian Authority] Mahmoud Abbas was given a welcome special to heads of state upon his arrival in Jordan. Although there is a long way to go before the observer status of Palestine is promoted to an “independent state,” the current achievement is not only a major success for Palestinians, but will also greatly facilitate their movement toward final realization of an independent state for Palestinians. The observer Palestinian state was realized as a result of various factors. This development not only proved progressive isolation of Israel’s anti-Palestinian discourse at international level, but also promoted diplomatic finesse of the Palestinian politicians. It will also shed gradual light on the facts of the Israeli – Palestinian dispute at international level. Apart from these factors, the new conditions in the region have paved the way for the realization of this achievement. Before the ongoing popular developments in the region and their impact on the Palestinian nation and politicians, the Palestinian self-rule had never gotten close to the achievement of this goal under similar circumstances and used to back off in the face of pressures from Israel and the United States. However, how the latest developments in the Arab world have been able to influence the new approach taken by the Palestinian self-rule?

The story started when Arab countries – especially Saudi Arabia and the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] – threw their support behind Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative which aimed to get Palestine recognized as an independent state by the United Nations. Obviously, they had different motivations for supporting that initiative because similar plans had been brought up since a long time ago and instead of supporting them, the Arab countries had simply emphasized on the necessity of following along the lines of the Arab peace initiative (which had been offered in the Lebanese capital of Beirut in 2002). Saudi Arabia and the (P)GCC were obviously supporting Mahmoud Abbas initiative for propaganda purposes. This issue is not new. Palestine has been always used as a means of propaganda by Arab regimes which are facing domestic challenges. However, one year after that initiative was rejected for sure, Mahmoud Abbas came up with a plan to get Palestine’s status promoted to observer state and took that plan to the UN. This time, like past instances, the main supporters of the plan included the member states of the (P)GCC (except Qatar) in addition to Jordan. In fact, without financial guarantees from Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Abbas would have never dared to propose the initiative. His visit to Riyadh before leaving for New York should be construed along the same lines. The question, therefore, is why the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Turkey did not replace Saudi Arabia and Jordan in their strong and firm support for Mahmoud Abbas and his initiative, despite their initial support for that plan? Most analysts, in the meantime, expected post-Mobarak Egypt as well as Turkey, which has a claim to the leadership of regional states, to support the Palestinian initiative, which would have been the replica of their pivotal role in negotiations which followed the war on Gaza (in 2008).

To solve this riddle, it would be useful to pay attention to another reality: after leaving New York, Mahmoud Abbas went to Jordan in his first foreign visit (after recognition of Palestine’s new status). This visit, however, was quite different from his past visits to Jordan. Jordan’s King Abdullah II received him at the level of a head of state. A 21-gun salvo (a formality which had been forgotten since a long time ago even when receiving heads of other states), helped explain the new realities in the region. According to reports, one of the main topics discussed by King Abdullah II and Mahmoud Abbas in Amman and a few days later, in the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah, was how to stop the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. Apart from its regional importance, this issue is also of domestic significance both to the Palestinian government of Abbas and the Jordanian regime – given the powerful presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and Palestine (Hamas). These were, in fact, anti-Muslim Brotherhood meetings which could pit the cities of Ramallah and Amman against Cairo, Ankara, and Tunis (and if the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood succeeds in toppling the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad, against Damascus as well). However, Jordan and the government of Mahmoud Abbas cannot be considered the main pivot of this new grouping. A glance at new orientation of the (P)GCC state media (save for the Qatari media) will reveal the conflict that the Council is gradually stoking in the region in reaction to the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood and their threat against stability and security of the (P)GCC member states. This conflict has already clearly come to the surface in specific instances, including in recent remarks by Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim.

Saudi Arabia, which is apparently using its financial might to align the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt and the government of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with its regional as well as anti-Iranian and anti-Shia policies, has thus far decided to strengthen its relations with both states. In doing so, it has adopted a new diplomatic approach to contain ideological actions of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and their subsequent impact on the (P)GCC member states as well as Jordan. Although it is practically impossible to differentiate between official and unofficial approaches of governments, this conflict emanates from Saudi Arabia’s perception of possible future groupings in the region; a prophecy which may prove to be self-fulfilling. Egypt and Turkey, which are engaged in a secret rivalry over leadership of the regional current of the Muslim Brotherhood, are currently supporting Hamas – which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. Therefore, although they have taken a positive approach to Abbas’ initiative, they are also trying to strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. With this background in mind it would not be difficult to guess what issues have been discussed in the aforesaid two meetings between Abbas and King Abdullah II. It is noteworthy that in his meeting with the British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, King Abdullah II issued warnings about emergence of a union of radical Arab currents. All the above facts prove that Palestine has once more emerged as the main axis of regional rivalries. While it was previously expected that achieving the “observer state” status at the UN may be a prelude to Palestinian peace and unity, regional issues seem to be once again exacerbating differences in Palestine. Although Saudi Arabia’s contradictory approach has helped the realization of an “observer Palestinian state,” it seems that there would be problems on the way of achieving its logical outcome, which would be establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Key Words: Palestine Observer State, Regional Groupings, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Self-Rulem, (P)GCC, Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmadian

More By Hassan Ahmadian:

*Hamas in the Light of Regional Developments and Increased Arab Support: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Hamas-in-the-Light-of-Regional-Developments-and-Increased-Arab-Support.htm

*Crisis in Kuwait: The Faceoff between Ruling Family and Radical Opposition: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Crisis-in-Kuwait-The-Faceoff-between-Ruling-Family-and-Radical-Opposition.htm

*The Kingdom of Jordan: Continued Stability in the Midst of Instability: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The-Kingdom-of-Jordan-Continued-Stability-in-the-Midst-of-Instability.htm

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