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Non-Arab Regional Players: Iran and Turkey by Khaled AL-Hroub

Date: Monday, April 15, 2019, 13:00

Location: Light-House Hotel, Gaza City, Palestine.

Background:

“Building Strategic Capacity: Empowering Civil, Political and Emerging Constituencies in Palestine and Israel” is an EU Peacebuilding Initiative-funded project that develops the ongoing work of the Palestine Strategy Group (PSG), the Palestinian Citizens of Israel Group (PCIG) and the Israeli Strategic Forum (ISF). This roundtable discussion was part of the PSG dimension of the project. Since being founded in 2008, the PSG has produced a considerable number of studies and strategic reports on the Palestinian issue. In cooperation with Pal-Think for Strategic Studies, the Palestinian Center for Israeli Studies (MADAR) and Oxford Research Group, the PSG will produce 12 research papers between 2017 and 2020 which deal with multiple themes and perspectives that then culminates in the publication of the Strategic Policy Manual “Palestine 2020”. This policy report will be presented at a major conference in Ramallah in 2020 and incorporate all the findings of the 12 PSG research papers as well as conclusions of the PCIG.

Workshop’s Attendees:

The roundtable was conducted in the Gaza strip. Attendees included Mr. Omar Shaban, director of Pal-Think for Strategic Studies as a moderator, Prof. Khaled AL-Hroub is a Palestinian academic, a senior research fellow at the Centre of Islamic Studies and the co-ordinator of the Cambridge Arab Media Project (CAMP) at the University of Cambridge and also professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University in Qatar. And also, a diverse combination of 60 participants including journalists, professors, activists, intellectuals, writers, political analysts, and college students. Besides, 10 of the attendees were less than 30 years old, and 50 of them were above 30 years old.

Moderator Contribution:

Mr. Shaban noted that this roundtable is part of Pal-Think’s continued project with ORG and the PSG within the EU Peacebuilding initiative “Building Strategic Capacity: Empowering Civil, Political and Emerging Constituencies in Palestine and Israel.” Last year, the project tackled issues related to Palestine internally and on the Israeli agenda and then covered Palestine in the region, and now presenting policy papers related to Palestine on the international agenda. Ultimately, all the policy papers written will be presented at the conference in 2020. The policy paper of this session is Non-Arab Regional Players: Iran and Turkey by Prof. Khaled AL-Hroub.

Khaled AL-Hroub Contribution:

This paper attempts to analyze the Turkish and Iranian positions from the Palestinian cause, the foreign policies and the impact of these policies on the Palestinian political scene, and understand whether the Turkish and Iranian impact and intervention strengthen or weaken the Palestinian collective capacity in confronting Israel. The paper is divided into three parts:

First and foremost, it provides a brief historical background for the development of both countries’ positions; Iran and Turkey towards Palestine and Israel. Then understanding the Turkish and Iranian views and foreign policies towards Palestine within a broad regional and global context that helps us understand and frame the trends adopted by the two parties at different periods. The argument here is that national interests of both countries represent a vital tool towards understanding the positions of the two countries, in fact, national interests are the ones that dominated both countries foreign policies, not ideological speeches.

Second is analyzing the current regional landscape and prospects of change in foreign policies and reaching possibilities for “potential regional tradeoffs” in which Turkey and Iran may be key actors, either together or in isolation, and how these trade-offs both countries positions and policies towards Palestinians.

The third part provides the conclusions and recommendations for the Palestinian leadership and Palestinians themselves to form a deeper understanding of the two regional powers.

There are four regional scenarios and tradeoffs… and Palestine:

First, the escalations of the current regional confrontations and conflicts to a level of destructive regional wars. Second, the ongoing confrontations and conflicts might stay as they are at the moment, which means things get worse for all parties.  Third, mutual containment of conflicting parties and reducing the conflict to lower levels than now. Fourth, resolving disputes and moving towards cooperation within a regional security system.

At the heart of the most critical scenarios mentioned above, there is a shift in regional alliances and relations with Israel. It is worth mentioning that the most crucial coalition under formation is the three-way Israeli-Egyptian-Saudi- alliance, supported by the U.S which is based on confronting what these parties perceive as an “Iranian threat” This alliance represents a radical change in regional politics, in fact, if it becomes public and governs the relations of these three countries with each other. From an Israeli point of view, Israel’s concerns have changed from focusing on Arab nationalism and its states as a source of threat over the past decades to the Islamists and their countries.

Regional tradeoffs and the impact on the Turkish and Iranian positions towards Palestine and Palestinians:

  • Iran and the nuclear file— The first trade-off is that after the cancellation of the nuclear agreement that the previous U.S administration signed with Iran in 2015 and the continued bellicose rhetoric of the Trump administration to Iran might lead us to two directions: a possible military confrontation in the region or a new agreement with Iran on the nuclear file on new terms. In both cases, the question remains: to what extent that will affect the Iranian position towards Palestine and how any compromise will be reflected on the Palestinian political scene.
  • Turkey, U.S, and North Syria— This involves acknowledging the long-term presence of the Turkish army on north Syria in exchange of handing over Turkish opposition activist Fethullah Gülen, closing the file of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reducing Turkish support for Palestine and Hamas in particular, and keeping the Turkish rhetoric against Israel at minimum. These terms to grant Turkey full-control on the Kurdish north of the country.
  • Israel and normalization with Gulf states— In essence, this correlates with the so-called “peace process”, which is no longer exists, after the first five years of “peace process” between 1994 and 1999” the transitional phase”, still in the same phase without achieving any “peace” or transition to the permanent phase. The thing is that ”the process” itself must continue, whilst peace is not that important as long as the region is drowned in the “process.” That has been the case for more than 20 years with extensive diplomatic and media attention for the various rounds of negotiations, meetings, delegations, and press conferences. The “peace process” has become Israel’s most successful strategy to invade and fool the region and the world to achieve its interests. It gave Israel the cover to change things in favor of Israelis terms on the ground particularly in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel was able to rearrange its political discourse and its diplomatic openness to many Arab countries with justification the solution to the conflict will be achieved through these countries.

Recommendations:

First: Palestinians should understand that national interests of regional powers (Iran and Turkey) define these countries foreign policies towards Palestine, and not ideological rhetoric or Palestinian interest.

Second: The support provided by regional powers (Iran and Turkey) does not empower Palestinians collectively, it is only provided for some parties or organizations, without the goal of enhancing or strengthening Palestinian unity.  

Third: Iran and Turkey are part of different regional popular conflicts especially that of Syria, with possible trade-offs expected with these countries, thus changing their policies regarding the support of the Palestinians and their cause.

Forth: For more than two decades, Iran has been supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which helped these parties becoming potent in the Palestinian political scene, and enhanced national divide.

Fifth: The Turkish (and Qatari) support to Hamas was a more indirect political and diplomatic one. It is advised to utilize the Turkish role in favor of the Palestinian cause.

Sixth: Regional support to the two parties (in Gaza and the West Bank) made it worse, with Iran and Turkey supporting the de facto government in Gaza and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan supporting PA in the WB, so that internal efforts between national Palestinian parties are essential and the only way out.

Attendees’ Comments & Questions:

  • Is it necessary for the Palestinians to discuss the ins and outs of foreign policies of regional countries towards Palestine?
  • Do you expect that Iran will change its position regarding its support to some parties in Gaza?
  • Turkey and Qatar support and in favor of the Palestinian divide, not the reconciliation process.
  • Turkish foreign policy depends primarily on the interests of Turkey itself rather than ideologies.
  • What should Palestinians do to take advantage of the interventions of regional powers in favor of Palestinian cause?
  • The role of the Palestinians away from internal political divide is missing in the paper. What should the Palestinians themselves do at the moment?
  • The role of the public in the Arab countries towards the Palestinian case in the light of normalization efforts with Israel?
  • Where do Iranian-Turkish interests intersect concerning the Palestinian status quo?
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