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Why Israel Went Out on a Limb to Support Kurdish Independence

Sept. 25 2017

Today the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will go to the polls to vote on whether to declare independence from Iraq. Last week, breaking ranks with the U.S., other Middle Eastern leaders, and much of the world, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly announced his support for such a move. In doing so, he not only expressed sympathy with the Kurds’ aspiration to create what their opponents have derisively termed a second Israel—a non-Arab, democratic oasis in the midst of the Middle East—but also affirmed the longstanding ties between Israel and Iraqi Kurds, not to mention a sense of kinship between the Jewish and Kurdish peoples. David Halbfinger writes:

A breakaway Kurdistan could prove valuable to Israel against Iran, which has oppressed its own Kurdish population. But given the interwoven history and shared emotion underlying [Netanyahu’s] statement, present-day geopolitics can seem almost beside the point. The Kurds and the Jews, it turns out, go way back. . . .

The first Jews in Kurdistan, tradition holds, were among the lost tribes of Israel, taken from their land in the 8th century BCE. They liked it there so much, [the local legend goes], that when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians and let the Jews go back home, many chose instead to stick around. . . .

In the modern era, Kurdish Jews departed en masse for Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, leaving Kurdish civil society so bereft that some recall its leaders still lamenting the Jewish exodus decades later.

Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds—both minorities in an inhospitable region and ever in need of international allies— have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. . . . And while Kurdish leaders have not publicly embraced Israel in the run-up to the referendum, for fear of antagonizing the Arab world, the Israeli flag can routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in [the regional capital of] Erbil and across Europe.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iraq, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Kurds

Hamas Sets Its Sights on Taking over the PLO

Oct. 20 2017

Examining the recent reconciliation agreement between the rival Palestinian organizations Fatah and Hamas, Eyal Zisser argues that the latter sees the deal as a way to install its former leader, Khaled Meshal, as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and thereby the Palestinian Authority. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened:

Even the former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat . . . took the PLO leadership by force. His first steps, incidentally, were with the Fatah organization, which he cofounded in January 1965 in Damascus, under Syrian patronage. Fatah was meant to serve as a counterweight to the rival PLO, which had come into existence [earlier] under Egyptian patronage. Arafat, however, was relegated to the sidelines in the Palestinian arena. It was only after the 1967 Six-Day War that he exploited the resounding defeat of the Arab armies to join the PLO as the leader of Fatah, which led to his gaining control over [the PLO itself].

Meshal [most likely] wants to follow in Arafat’s footsteps—a necessary maneuver for a man who aspires to lead the Palestinian national movement, particularly after realizing that military might and even a hostile takeover of [either Gaza or the West Bank] will not grant him the legitimacy he craves.

It is hard to believe that Fatah will willingly hand over the keys to leadership, and it is also safe to assume that Egypt does not want to see Hamas grow stronger. But quasi-democratic developments such as these have their own dynamics. In 2006, Israel was persuaded by Washington to allow Hamas to run in the general Palestinian elections, thinking the Islamist group had no chance of winning. But Hamas won those elections. We can assume Meshal will now look to repeat that political ploy by joining the PLO and vying for its leadership.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Fatah, Hamas, Khaled Meshal, Palestinian Authority, PLO, Politics & Current Affairs, Yasir Arafat