Jan 19 2003

How would a war on Iraq affect the Palestinian cause?

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The conflict between the United States and Iraq has left a dark cloud over the Middle East in general and on Palestine in particular. The fear among Palestinians regarding the war in Iraq stem from a number of issues:

Palestinians are concerned that the Israeli government would use the cover of war to carry out large-scale repressive acts against Palestinians. For the past two years Israel has not been able to win in their battle with Palestinians. Ever attempt at deterring Palestinians has failed. Israeli military strategists think that in order to reach the elusive military victory over Palestinians, much more force and repression is needed. Israeli sources believe that the reason Israel has failed, so far, from crushing the Palestinian resistance, is in part because of the perceived opposition of the international community, especially the US. Although Israel has been very tough with Palestinians, it is believed that it has not let the army completely free to crush the Palestinians because of the fear that such strong violent reaction to Palestinians might harm the US’s war on Ira because it will be seen as further angering Arab and Muslim populations. War on Iraq would be a perfect excuse to finish off the intifada because the world will be too busy dealing with Iraq.

The real nightmare of Palestinians, however, is not limited to Israel further increasing its repression, but that the right wing government in Israel might use the cover of war to carry out large-scale transfer of Palestinians. Those who hold this theory believe that in the long run there is no way to defeat Palestinians in the demographic war unless large numbers of Palestinians are physically or otherwise deported from the areas under Israeli control. Proponents of this theory think that if Israel can succeed in transferring a large number of Palestinians, it will no longer have to accept a Palestinian state but will be able to annex Palestinian territory and integrate any small Palestinian minority that might be left into Israel. Although this option is often talked about in Arab circles, most analysts doubt its feasibility. Palestinians who have seen the results of the immigration of their brethren in the 1948 and 1967 wars are clearly not going to leave of their own free will.

This means that Israel will have to violently cleanse Palestine of its Arab inhabitants. This seems highly unlikely with the presence of so many foreign diplomats, NGOs and the world press. The Israeli public itself will not tolerate such violent acts. The mere logistics of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians being forcibly forced out of their homes is seen as unlikely.

The attack on Iraq is also worrying Palestinians from another source. It is feared that a short and successful US victory will further increase the power of the US as the only party in the Middle East, thus further strengthening the Israelis politically in their struggle with Palestinians. While this position is strongly espoused by Israel, whose leaders think that the removal of Saddam Hussein from the Middle East equation will remove a strong chip from the Palestinian negotiating hands, it is not as much a worry of Palestinians. For Palestinians, whatever the result of a possible war in Iraq will not change the basic contested issues in Palestine. In fact some Palestinians, feel that on the contrary, that the removal of the Iraqi crisis from the US and the international political discussions, will make the solution of the Palestinian cause more urgent. Palestinians who have not received real political or financial support from the Arab countries including Iraq and have withstood a very tough Israeli onslaught are not likely to politically capitulate even if Baghdad is ruled by a US general.

Naturally the potential conflict with Iraq has many unknowns. It will make a big difference if the war is short or long. If the conflict ends by a coup or if there are street fights that last a long time. Another issue is the spill over of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the nearby countries. Such a mass movement of people fleeing the war in Iraq could have a destabilizing result on many of the countries in the region. Such a deterioration of internal security in countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia could have long term far reaching effect that indirectly could affect Palestinians and the Arab Israeli conflict.

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