PA bolsters ties with Iran as Tehran-Hamas relationship cools
Back from Islamic Republic, PLO official Ahmad Majdalani hails nuclear deal; says Abbas, Rouhani agree on solution to Syria conflict
Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel
The Palestinian Authority is attempting to strengthen its diplomatic relations with Iran, as ties between the Islamic Republic and its main Palestinian rival, Hamas, grow increasingly chilly.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas sent Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, to Iran, where he met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Majdalani told Palestinian radio on Monday that he signed a cooperation agreement between Iran and “Palestine,” with the two sides forming a “high committee” to discuss political, economic and social exchange.
“We discussed the Palestinian situation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He stressed Iran’s support for the attempts of the Palestinian leadership to end the Palestinian divide and form a unity government,” Majdalani told Mawtini radio station on Monday, noting that he carried a letter from Abbas to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran’s relations with the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement have been traditionally frosty since the Palestinian leader has renounced the armed resistance against Israel which Iran supports both financially and ideologically.
In 2012, Abbas declined an invitation to visit Tehran by then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He later met with Ahmadinejad in Cairo in February 2013, thanking the Iranian president for supporting the Palestinians’ November 2012 UN statehood bid.
Following a rare visit to Tehran in January 2014 during which he met with Foreign Minister Zarif, Fatah official Jibril Rajoub said that his movement “genuinely” wanted to move relations with Iran forward.
According to Majdalani, a native of Syria, Mahmoud Abbas sees eye-to- eye with Iran on the solution to the Syrian civil war. Iran has recently proposed a four-staged process in Syria starting with an immediate ceasefire; the formation of a unity government; the amendment of Syria’s constitution; and finally national elections.
In September 2013, Abbas broke ranks with the Arab League, opposing Western military strikes against the Assad regime. Earlier that year, Abbas devised a diplomatic solution for the Syrian crisis, the details of which he never divulged, but which he presented to US President Barack Obama during his visit to the region in March 2013.
“The four elements of the Iranian initiative coincide with the Palestinian initiative,” Majdalani told the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency on Monday.
Majdalani also praised the nuclear agreement signed between Iran and the P5+1 last month, saying that it would contribute to “peace and security in the region.”
“[The agreement] will prepare the ground for an international conference to clear the region of nuclear weapons, depriving Israel of the excuse that a nuclear Iran threatens its existence,” Majdalani was quoted by Ma’an as saying.
Since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, Iran has clearly favored Hamas over Fatah. However, it has gradually ceased its financial and military support for Hamas after the Palestinian Islamist movement abandoned its Damascus headquarters in early 2012 and reportedly endorsed a Saudi-led military operation against Shiite rebels in Yemen.
According to media reports, a planned visit by Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal to Tehran was recently canceled by the Iranian government in protest against Hamas’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Hamas, for its part, has rushed to deny reports of a crisis between the sides, claiming that ties with Iran are ongoing despite the cut in funding.