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18 July 2019

The Iraqi love fest with Palestine

By: Daoud Kuttab
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As the political and economic noose tightens on the leadership in Palestine, Palestinians are reverting to their natural strength, the diaspora. Speaking at the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the leading Palestinian human rights group, Al Haq, Saeb Erekat, the secretary of the Palesitne Liberation Organisation (PLO) reminded the audience of this important asset. “We Palestinians are 13 million strong. The PLO represents Palestinians whether they are in Chile or in Baghdad.”

Palestinians in Chile were recently in Ramallah along with Sebastián Piñera, the newly elected president, along with a large delegation of Chilean Palestinians. President Abbas gave the Chilean president the medal of Bethlehem in appreciation of his support for Palestine. Some 500,000 citizens of Chile are of Palestinian origin.

In Iraq where the current prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, and a number of senior Cabinet members are staunch supporters of the PLO, a senior delegation headed by Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, Foreign Minister Riyad Al Malki and Finance Minister Shukri Bishara made an official state visit and were given high honours in Baghdad by the senior Iraqi officials.

Discussions in Baghdad are said to focus on the willingness of the Iraqi government to provide Palestine with all its oil needs, double its annual ($160 million) Arab League-mandated contribution and introduce new laws that will protect and provide for the small 34,000 strong Palestinian refugee population living in Iraq. Iraq is also said to be willing to match Qatar’s loan to the Palestinian government in order to help it overcome it current financial crisis due in large part to US and Israeli economic pressures.

The prime minister of Iraq spent time in Lebanon and was known to be an active supporter of the PLO. While in Lebanon, his house in was reportedly blown up by the Israelis during their 1982 invasion and occupation of South Lebanon.

The visit of the PLO delegation was preceded by a highly successful speaking tour by Nabil Shaath, senior political adviser to President Abbas and the head of the PLO’s diaspora division.

The move by the Palestinian leadership outwards is a return to the basics that appears to have been almost all but forgotten in the almost total Palestinian leadership’s focus inwardly. The financial crisis has forced Palestinians to look outwardly and, to their apparent surprise, they have found that there are still many supporters of Palestine around the world within the diaspora and within the peoples of the world.

The outward look by the Palestinian leadership is forcing the need to end the ugly division especially in Gaza where a renegade power has been in control for over a decade. Palestinian officials are confident that the latest Egyptian-led reconciliation efforts will produce positive results and the talk of general parliamentary and presidential elections are increasing in Palestine in recent weeks.

Palestinian leaders have been involved in a tough struggle since the coming of the Trump administration which has been giving Israel free gifts on behalf of the Palestinian people and has a result emboldened Israel to reject any genuine effort for peace based on the two-state solution, to talk defiantly of annexing Palestinian lands to Israel, and as the Israeli minister of education unashamedly said the annexed Palestinian population will have no voting or any other political rights. The apartheid that has existed in the occupied Palestinian territories in an ambiguous way will soon become clear for all to see.

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu have not been a friend to Palestinians in recent months, but their actions, without their knowledge appears to have helped Palestinian leaders return to their strongest asset, their people in the diaspora. This unintended consequence is welcomed by many and could be a game changer if the leadership understands its importance and administers this asset in a proper and effective way.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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