Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub in Tehran on Tuesday, in a rare visit by a Palestinian Authority official to the Islamic republic.
During the meeting, Zarif said Israel was using Iran’s “peaceful nuclear program as pretext to divert world public attention from their crimes in Palestine,” the semi-official Iranian news outlet Press TV reported.
Israel, along with Western countries, has long accused Iran of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian program — charges denied by Tehran — and Jerusalem has criticized an interim nuclear deal reached between Iran and world powers in November.
Zarif reportedly told that Rajoub one of Iran’s motivations for advancing negotiations with the international community over its nuclear program has been to rob Israel of this “excuse.” He added that the Palestinians’ struggle was “a fundamental cause” for the Islamic Republic.
Rajoub, a senior member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, said the group “will not stop the resistance until the establishment of an independent Palestinian government” in east Jerusalem. According to Press TV, he also told Zarif that Iran was a central player in the region and congratulated him on the interim nuclear deal.
While Rajoub’s only official capacity at the moment is as president of the Palestine Football Association, his visit was still a noteworthy occurrence in the relations between Iran and the PA, which over the past few years have mostly been tense.
Iran has traditionally held close ties with Hamas, a rival of the PA’s ruling Fatah party. And it has often sided with Hamas’s stance on the peace process, which rejects any negotiations with Israel, thus coming into conflict with the PA.
In 2010 then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the PA for resuming peace negotiations with Israel. PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh offered the following riposte: “The one who does not represent the Iranian people, who falsified election results, who oppressed the Iranian people and stole authority has no right to speak about Palestine, its president or its representatives.”
Still, in 2012 Abbas was invited by Ahmadinejad to visit Tehran, an offer that he initially accepted but upon which he ultimately did not follow through. The two did, however, meet in Cairo in February of 2013 on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit, and Abbas thanked the Iranian president for supporting the Palestinians’ November 2012 UN statehood bid.