The Palestinian national movement has become the hostile stepsister, mainly the slayer of the Zionist national movement, and it remained until today absolutist in its goals, the destruction of Israel as a state and as a nation. Every people are created in a long historical process. The issue is not whether there is a Palestinian people, but the question should be asked is: What are the goals of the Palestinians? What is the terrain of their aspirations? How and where do they define their state? What are the borders of their state?
The Palestinian national movement claims, in Article 3 of the Palestinian Charter: “The Palestinian Arab people possess the legal right to its homeland, and when the liberation of its homeland is completed, it will exercise self-determination solely according to its own will and choice.”
This means that their national existence is lacking as long as the State of Israel exists. Palestinian national existence can arise only on the ruins of the State of Israel, and not alongside it. This is the immediate meaning of Article 3. It is necessary to focus on these issues, and not on the sterile dispute about the Palestinian national entity, its existence or nature. There is a Palestinian people, because there is a national group that defines itself as such. But the Palestinians have not changed their ways of thinking or their operational ways, and they still aspire to set up “Greater Palestine” on the wreckage of the State of Israel.
Nevertheless, there is a large problem in objectively and scientifically defining “Who is a Palestinian,” just as there is a difficulty in defining “Who is an Arab,” and just as there is a dispute over the question of “Who is a Jew.” The concept Arab has changed and developed over the years, but there never was an agreed, accepted definition of it. Ibn Khaldun, the Arab historian, claimed that the Arabs were only wandering Bedouin. This was also the meaning of the term until the 18th century in the Middle East. Arab leaders have tried to determine a definition of an “Arab” in accordance with several distinct criteria: he who lives on Arab soil, speaks the Arabic language, his mother tongue being Arabic, was born into Arab culture, and is proud of the splendid Arab past.
Others spoke of Arab culture and loyalty as a national feeling, while yet others argued for belonging to the Arab nation and living the Arab life style. The common elements are language, which is a cultural component; a common history that expresses the Arab past; regional and cultural unity; and vehement resistance to Zionism and international imperialism. However, are these enough? They possess great importance, but they are still very problematic. We still have remained in a situation where the concept is amorphous and a matter of emotions, and not necessarily of the conscious intellect.
Who, then, are the Palestinians? In particular, what is their national goal and how do they seek to achieve it? According to the Palestinian national covenant, in Article 5: “The Palestinians are the Arab nationals who were living permanently in Palestine until 1947, whether they were expelled from there or remained…”
What do they intend by referring to the year 1947? Does this merely refer to the Partition Plan, UN General Assembly resolution 181? We have to refer to Articles 19 and 20 that reject the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate document, and everything deriving from them. Now we understand: the so-called Palestinians are demanding “Greater Palestine”, which historically lay on both sides of the Jordan River.
Here is the strong link between defining national identity and defining the problem. There are many Palestinian groups within various political-juridical frameworks, and therefore the definition of Who-is-a-Palestinian does not derive from one’s national or geographic origin. Rather, from their political point of view, being Palestinian means supporting a total national-ideological program.
The name Palestine, which refers to the territory of the Land of Israel, and the name Palestinian which refers to the Arab people, crystallized with the establishment of the State of Israel and creation of an Israeli political identity. Only then did the Palestinian politicians notice the importance of the name, and turned “Palestine” into an operative idea, a territorial entity existing since ancient times. The connection between the name and the people is new and artificial to that same extent. However, the link between the origin of the Palestinian people – a mixed multitude of groups from the region, which had recently arrived – and the historical peoples of the Land of Israel, is not only artificial, deceitful and fraudulent, but ridiculous, pathetic and lunatic.
The Palestinian problem is, above all, a political problem with political meanings. The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice to the Palestinian nation is totally unacceptable, and it proceeds on gross errors and lies.
It is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land; after all, most Palestinians have lived to this day in historic mandatory Palestine, whether in the boundaries defined in 1922, on both sides of the Jordan, or in the limited definition of the Western territory.
To claim that the Palestinians were displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time, is playing with the facts of history and justice. The Balfour declaration of 1917, being part of the Mandate given to Britain to fulfill, granted the whole territory of “Greater Palestine,” including East Jordan to the Jewish people, and it was recognized by the 1919 Paris Peace Settlement after WWI and the League of Nations as was legitimized in the Mandatory system. It was also legitimized by the UN resolutions.
To assert that Israel has taken territory in 1948 owned by the Palestinians and known to be theirs is totally false, since the Jewish settlements were on empty places and partly bought in full money from local inhabitants. Israel did not took areas belonging to the Palestinians in the 1967 war. This is a big atrocious lie. Between 1948 and 1967, the so called Palestinians were considered and treated only as Arab refugees. They were not mentioned even by Arab states as political problem and as a nation deserve of a territory. All Arab leaders clearly differentiated between “the solution of Palestine issue” (Hall Qadiyat Filastin) and the resolution of the Arab refugees (Qadiyat al-Lija’ al-Arab).
Indeed this differentiation is clearly revealed on the international arena. Even as late as November 1967, the UN Security Council Resolution 242 mentions ‘the refugee problem’ and not a ‘Palestinian people’. The fact is that a Palestinian entity grew as a political movement precisely because of the Arab states defeat in 1967 war. Only from that time on, the world began to hear of a “Palestinian People.”
The Palestinian issue is not a problem of refugees, since only a minority of them is living in camps, and examination of the socioeconomic data shows clearly that their situation resembles in its nature the problems of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Third World countries – and in many cases their situation is much better.
The Palestinian issue is not a problem of a society that was uprooted from its human environment, since almost all Palestinians are living in an Arabic speaking society, in Arabic culture, and under Arab regimes. They live under Arab regimes, mainly Jordan and Lebanon, and they are antagonistic to these states; in the western territory of the Land of Israel they live as independent entities under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza; and they live as a minority in Israel.
Most of the population of Jordan are Palestinians and most Palestinians have or had Jordanian identity. In this sense, the situation of the Palestinians does not at all resemble the situation of the Jews in the Diaspora before they had a state. The true political situation is absolutely different from Palestinian propaganda, where its aims to be achieved through national struggle by prolonged inhuman terrorism and at the same time political demands of humanitarian base: the refugees’ Right of Return.
The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice to the Palestinian nation is totally unacceptable historically, politically and ideologically. It proceeds on gross errors and big lies.
To claim that the Palestinian nation was displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time, is playing with the facts of history and human logic.
To assert that Israel has taken territory owned by the Palestinians and known to be theirs is totally false that has never suited the history and reality.
To argue that Israel took areas belonging to a Palestinian political entity in the Six Day War is a big lie. The West bank was conquered by Jordan in 1948, and its population annexed to Jordan and agreed to have a Jordanian citizenship; and the Gaza strip was conquered by Egypt, which retained their mandatory identity. From 1948 to 1967, this population has never raised its voice being a Palestinian people and demanding political aims and independence. It was only after 1967, when Israel has liberated these territories, which were promised by the Mandate that we heard of a “Palestinian people.
Indeed, the Palestinian entity grew as a political movement because of the Israeli defeat of the Arab states in 1967 war, taking territories from Jordan and Egypt, whose control was never legitimized even by other Arab states, let alone the international community. Until then, the Palestinians were considered and treated only as Arab refugees. Further, UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 mentions “the refugee problem” and not a “Palestinian people”.
The question still remains: what do the Palestinians want? What are their goals? What and where is the Palestine that they speak of? How and where do they perceive the State of Israel existing and on which borders? Where was the “Palestinian people” in those years? Where they even raised their voice for political aims? Above all, what kind of justice do the Palestinians want? Where do they wish to implement their justice? And what are the borders of their Palestine?
From the viewpoint of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestine has a normative validity. It proposes total solutions to an imagined reality, and it is determined to view Palestine as an indivisible unit. Thus, their very definition of Palestine implies the necessity of liquidating Israel. Many of the articles in the Palestinian National Charter (al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Filastini) explicitly emphasize liberation of the entire territory of Palestine by violence and armed struggle. The same thrust is found in the resolutions of meetings of the Palestinian National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani al-Filastini) held over the years.
Article 1 of the Palestinian National Charter states: “Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people and an integral part of the great Arab homeland, and the people of Palestine is a part of the Arab nation.” This reveals the central trend in Palestinian policy from the beginning, the absolute demand for the whole territory of what they call Palestine, without sharing any part of it with others or dividing it. Therefore, self-determination would come only after the complete liberation of Palestine, as clearly stated in Article 3 of the Charter.
It is election season in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians are preparing for local and municipal elections in the Palestinian Authority held territory, on October 8. In 2012 elections Hamas boycotted the vote, allowing Fatah to claim victory. This time Hamas has decided to participate, a move that caught the Palestinian Authority by surprise. Hamas’s has started a frightening platform, when one of its top muftis, Yunis al-Astal, issued a Fatwah banning Palestinians from voting for any other party other than Hamas, otherwise he will be considered an infidel and apostate.
Significantly, official Fatah Facebook page on August 2, 2016, boasts about leading Palestinians in terror. Fatah did not cite even one peace-seeking or peace-promoting achievement, but only acts of violence and terror. Fatah has killed 11,000 Israelis; Fatah has sacrificed 170,000 Shuhada’; Fatah was the first to carry out operations of terror attacks, and it was the first to reach the nuclear reactor in Dimona; Fatah was the first to defeat the Zionist enemy; Fatah led the Palestinian attack on Israel in the UN.
The 1988 Hamas charter (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) is genocidal. Its slogan and model are: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its charter, Jihad its path, and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief” (Article 8). Yet the United Nations has never denounced it, and most of Western countries do not label Hamas as terrorist organization. Hamas is against any peace process: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. All initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are a waste of time and vain endeavors” (Article 13).
Hamas is committed to continuing Jihad against “the Jews” until the Day of Judgment. The land of Palestine, it affirms, must be cleansed from their impurity and viciousness. Muslims are obligated by order of the Prophet to fight and kill the Jews wherever they find them. This call to genocide is justified by a Hadith which concludes article 7 of the charter: The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to implement Allah’s promise, whatever time that may take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until the Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them), until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: Oh Muslim, Oh Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come on and kill him.”
For Hamas it is clear: there is only one political system and one rule: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned. In the absence of Islam, strife will be rife, oppression spreads, evil prevails and schisms and wars will break out” (Article 6).
“The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if others antagonize it or stands in its way to hamper its moves. Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that” (Article 31).
Hyowever, historically The phrase “Palestinian Arab people” implies that there were a Palestinian people in the past and that it had acted as a political collectivity. Of course, there never was such a collectivity. The Arabs living in geographical Palestine were called inhabitants of “Southern Syria” (Suriya al-Janubiyyah) and they considered themselves as Muslims first, then as Arabs, and then, by ascriptive affiliation, as natives of a town or village and/or as part of a tribe and extended family (Hamulah).
During the Mandatory period, a “Palestinian” meant a person who bore a Palestinian identity card issued by the British Mandatory authorities. After the rise of the State of Israel, the term “Palestinians” developed into a national definition of the Arabs connected with the country, comprising a self-conscious collectivity. But only after the 1967 war did the Palestinian national movement emerges politically in the Middle Eastern and international arenas.
Article 4 of the Palestinian National Charter asserts: The Palestinian identity is a genuine, essential, and inherent characteristic; it is transmitted from parents to children. The Zionist occupation and the dispersal of the Palestinian Arab people. do not make them lose their Palestinian identity, and their membership of the Palestinian community, nor do they negate them.
It is very important to note that the Palestinian leadership has emphasized time and again that even those Palestinians who have acquired foreign citizenship shall remain Palestinians with full rights to their homeland, no matter where they live nor how much time has elapsed. This means that being a Palestinian is independent of citizenship or formal nationality.
From the beginning, members of the Palestinian National Council and the National Executive Committee have mostly been delegates of the organizations comprising the Palestine Liberation Organization, as a political umbrella, while other members have been independents. Indeed, the legitimacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization was superimposed on the Palestinians. For this reason, Article 8 of the Charter tries to settle the issue of legitimacy and to achieve internal unity. This is why the Palestine Liberation Organization declares itself the representative of the revolutionary forces (Article 26).
Now the last question arises. Where is Palestine? What are its boundaries? Article 2 of the Charter clarifies this matter: Palestine, with the boundaries that it had during the British mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.
On these grounds, the Palestinians are not only making a claim to Western Palestine, but also to eastern Palestine, that is, the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Various resolutions of the Palestinian National Council affirm this outright. Indeed, the Palestinian national movement, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, frankly shows that it is far from accepting any territorial compromise.
Declarations suggesting willingness to compromise are only on the tactical level, and even the partial agreements that they are willing to sign are typified by a policy of take and take, most assuredly not one of give and take. This new strategy began in 1974 at the twelfth session of the Palestinian National Council. It was reinforced through the years. What motivates the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leaders is a policy of illusion and deception as embodied in the Staged Strategy, from 1974.
This reality presents several factual aspects. The fact is this conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has attract the attention of the international community for decades, and many hundreds of attempts to achieve political compromises and arrangements have been made and are still in process. They all were rejected.
The fact is that even the most moderate among the Jews, the members of Brit-Shalom, in the 1930s, who were ready for far-reaching concessions, even rejecting Zionism and Jewish statehood, did not succeed in achieving a basis for common understanding with the local Arab leadership.
The fact is that during the period of the British mandate, the local Arab leadership was not ready for any compromise as to Jewish immigration, as to Jewish settlement on the land, or as to the various partition plans that were proposed.
The fact is that the UN Partition Plan of November 29, 1947 was totally rejected by the local Arab leadership with the encouragement of the Arab states; and on the morrow of the UN vote, they began an organized war against the Jewish population.
The fact is that when the Jewish leadership decided to establish the State of Israel on the basis of the UN Partition Plan, war was proclaimed by the Arab states, with the encouragement of the local Arabs, in order to prevent establishment of the Jewish State.
The fact is that after the failure of the Arab states in the war, frontiers for the Jewish state were determined in negotiations with the Arab states, but they have appropriated the Palestine issue to themselves, and until 1967, the Palestinian issue was known only as a humanitarian problem of refugees.
The fact is that UN General Assembly Resolution 194, of December 11, 1948, refers mainly to the conciliation regime with the Arab states, and only in Article 11 does it relate to the “refugee problem” at all, and if this means Palestinians, it no less means the Jewish refugees from Arab states.
The fact is that from 1948 on, the Palestinians had no connection with regional political reality in general. They were not an active political player, they did not have any territorial assets, and their problem was defined as humanitarian one.
The fact is that even Resolution 242 of November 1967, deals with the issue under the rubric of the refugee problem, not with that of a Palestinian people, not with a political problem referring to an exploited disinherited people.
The fact is that in the 1967 war, Israel conquered militarily and politically liberated areas of mandatory Palestine which had been occupied by Arab states – Jordan, which had annexed the West Bank in April 1950, making it part of Jordanian territory, and Egypt which continued to view the inhabitants of Gaza as being subjects of the Mandate.
The fact is that the so-called Palestinians were not sovereign over any territory, ever in the far and recent history of the region, and the State of Israel never conquered any territory from them.
The fact is that the Palestinian national movement, in contrast to Palestinian identity, was shaped and organized only after the 1967 war and its chief goal to this day has not been to obtain a territory for the Palestinians and to live at peace with Israel. Rather, it has been to liquidate the State of Israel through indiscriminate terrorism, an inhuman incitement, and to take possession of the territory in its entirety.
The fact is that the Palestinians were not sovereign over any territory, and the State of Israel never conquered any territory from them. The Palestinian national movement, in contrast to Palestinian identity, was shaped and organized only after the 1967 war, and its chief goal to this day has been to take possession of Palestine in its entirety through indiscriminate terrorism and to control the territory of “Greater Palestine,” including Jordan, by totally demolishing the State of Israel.
The fact is that the Palestinian national movement is a terrorist movement armed from head to toe throughout its history. It has operated violent, indiscriminate terrorism not only against Jews and Israel from the beginning of Jewish settlement in 1882, but also against the Palestinians themselves, and even against Arab states, directly in Jordan and Lebanon, since the late 1960s on.
The fact is that the Palestinian national movement acts by pressures of threats of terrorism to undermine the stability of regimes and the regional order, for the purpose of financial blackmail and getting “protection money” from the oil states. These were operated in order to advance its national goals on the account of the vital interests of the Arab states and the Arab masses. It brought turmoil to the Jordanian and Lebanese political system, and in Lebanon it brought about the military intervention of Syria in June 1976, and Israel in June 1982.
Some lessons have to be understood. The so-called Palestinian issue on the international arena is not the “occupation” and it has never been. It is not the “1967 occupation” but the “1948 occupation.” It is all about total hatred and absolute rejection of any Jewish nationality on any part of what they call “Palestine.”
The Palestinian inhuman terrorism is not about Israeli racism or Apartheid. This claim is more than ridiculous. To refer to Israel being racist or Apartheid, is no less to stubbornly declare that Earth is flat, or that humans breathe not oxygen. 96 percent of the Palestinians in the territory west of the Jordan River, live on their own rule, either under the Palestinian Authority, or under the Hamas regime in Gaza. They whatsoever do not engage with Israel, and are free to live under Arab-Palestinian rule. They have nothing to do with “occupation.”
Palestinian terrorism is not about “occupation,” or “settlements,” or a declaration to establish a Palestinian state, or a demand to an Israeli return to the pre-1967 borders. Palestinian terrorism is mainly to remove, to totally wipe out Israel from the map of the Middle East. This inhuman Palestinian terrorism is due to the Palestinian politics of incitement and hatred, human record has never seen, including the Nazi era.
Palestinian terrorism does not stem from poverty, misery or lack of education. We have dealt with this issue previously on other papers in Modern Diplomacy. This is stupid and ridiculous on the march. The ignorant media reporters, the biased one-sided “peace activists,” and the hypocrite politicians tell us that that the Palestinians resort to violence because they are “hopeless,” unemployed, impoverished and uneducated. The terrorists are well-educated (mostly university, engineers and physicians) and come from fluent families economically.
This is a world-wide situation. Precisely the poor and uneducated do not engage in terrorism. They work hard to feed their families; they do not have time for “revolutions;” and they do not know how to work in organizations. The media and now the social media are the main source of the terrorist activity, and they constantly motivate and direct the public with hateful, libelous accusations and pure false propaganda.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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