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A Long and Costly Palestinian Journey Ends Where Ahmad Gibril Once Began

A Long and Costly Palestinian Journey Ends Where Ahmad Gibril Once Began

Sunday, 23 January, 2022 - 10:30

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could, at any moment, start liberating Palestine. This is the impression one gets from the current consensus among Palestinians, moderate and radical, Islamist and secular, left-wing and right-wing. They are all in agreement on Assad and his invaluable contribution to “the cause” and the need to approach or integrate the Assad regime.

This long journey rife with blood, sacrifice, debates, and defections, which ended at the point at which Ahmed Jibril had begun, should never have been taken.

The secretary-general of Fatah’s Central Committee, Jibril Rajoub, recently visited Damascus, announcing that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also visit the Syrian capital. In a press conference he held there, Rajoub said: “This visit and its delegation will be a true starting point for reformulating Palestinian affairs amid unprecedented escalation by the Israeli occupation to end the Palestinian cause.” In another instance, Rajoub considered that Syria being outside the Arab League is “a shame upon Arabs. It is a founding member of the Arab League and must regain its membership.”

In parallel, those close to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah are keen to remind everyone of Mahmoud Abbas’s “remarkable role, as part of Arab efforts in recent years, to reinstate Damascus into the Arab League,” adding that correspondence between Abbas and Assad has not ceased “during the Syrian crisis.” Meanwhile, we were also reminded that PA has always refused to “take part in isolating the Syrian regime.”

In 2014, Abbas sent a telegram to the Syrian president that gained notoriety at the time. In it, he congratulated Assad on being re-elected president and described his election as “embodying the preservation of Syria and her sovereignty” and “contributing to Syria’s emergence from its current crisis of confronting terrorism.” Only a few months had elapsed, at the time, since the chemical weapons massacre in eastern Ghouta, in which 1,500 people were killed and more than 11,000 were injured.

This is the state of “moderate secularists.” As for “radical Islamists,” their story is more exciting.

In 2014, as news about an Iranian mediation between Damascus and Hamas was breaking, Khaled al-Qaddoumi, the Hamas representative in Tehran, remarked that Syria has been a haven for the Palestinian resistance under Bashar al-Assad. Then, in 2015, Khaled Meshaal, the chairman of Hamas’ politburo at the time, called upon “all the parties fighting in Syria to point their rifles towards Palestine instead.”

In 2018, Ismail Haniyeh, who replaced Meshaal as politburo chairman, described what happened in Syria as “mutiny” that culminated in “the settlement of international and regional accounts.” When a reporter from the Russian agency Sputnik reminded him of contradictory stances he had made previously, Haniyeh described claims that he had stood behind the Syrian revolution as “inaccurate.” He confirmed that his movement, Hamas, “has never been hostile to the Syrian regime, which has stood alongside us at important junctures and contributed considerably.”

In turn, Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, wished “that the domestic crisis in Syria would end,” and an opportunity “to mend our relations” would open. One Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzouk, in a famously bizarre statement, claimed that “the first item on the agenda of the Palestinian Dialogue Conference is preventing the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.”

However, in the aftermath of the war in Gaza last year, leaders in Hamas volunteered thanks and gratitude to Assad and Iran for their stance of support for the movement, one of whose leaders, Osama Hamdan, praised Bashar al-Assad’s “support of Palestinian resistance.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian Islamic Jihad has chosen Damascus to host its headquarters, and it holds annual celebrations marking the anniversary of its founding there. Two years ago, it held in Damascus a funeral for one of its most prominent leaders, Ramadan Shalah. Its current secretary-general, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, is considered a prominent socialite in the city. Despite tensions mounting between Hamas and Damascus from 2011 till 2014, no such tensions emerged between Islamic Jihad, which is more closely affiliated with Iran and the Syrian regime.

These have been the positions and stances of “faithful Islamists.” What about the “atheist Marxists”?

Damascus is also the headquarters of the two fronts, the “Popular Front” (Habash - Sa’adat) and the “Democratic Front” (Hawatmeh) ... “for the Liberation of Palestine,” of course. Deputy general secretary of the “Popular Front,” Abu Ahmad Fouad, did not miss the opportunity last May to attribute a pledge by Assad that “Syria’s doors are open to all factions of the resistance, regardless of their names.” This statement was made after Fouad participated in a meeting between Assad and the “Palestinian factions.”

Since 2013, Layla Khaled, member of the PFLP’s politburo, whose aptitude for hijacking airplanes propelled her to the position, said she “supports the people’s demand for freedom and democracy” but that “what happened in Syria was different to what happened in all the other countries.” While she acknowledged that the regime made mistakes, in the beginning, she immediately pointed to “the plan to end Syria, not the regime - as they did in Iraq but with local tools.” She added, with hair-raising melodrama: “When Syria is targeted with this unjustified assault aimed at ending its role and it as a people and country, then yes, we are with Syria and against all terrorism coming from abroad and intends to eradicate our camps.” Of course, the Yarmouk Camp must have slipped her mind.

As for the eternal relic Nayef Hawatmeh, last year, he dispatched a telegram to the Syrian president congratulating him on his “reelection” to a fourth term, affirming that “the Palestinian people stand alongside the Syrian Arab people in their path to reclaim the unity of their country, every inch of it, and the unity of its official institutions, preserve the unity of its military and counter all schemes and plans targeting Syria’s sovereignty, independence and regional role.”

Other Palestinian organizations such as As-Saiqa-General Command and the Popular Struggle Front must not be overlooked. It is true that they are “chump change,” as they say, and they may have been created by the Assads, father and son, who breathed life into the clay that they had been, animating them into bodies with names. Despite this, or because of it, these factions, as it turned out, proved to deserve their place as the vanguards in dictating the policies of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian liberation. They are like religious references to be followed and emulated.

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