By Ismail Haniyeh
Shifting allegiances in the Arab world can prove confusing, but as the fortunes of various tyrannical regimes wax and wane, it should surprise no one that shifts in allegiance vary accordingly. We in Hamas initially stood with the uprising against Syrian President Basher Assad, but as the war progressed, we gradually realized which side our pita is buttered on: it makes no sense to support the rebels, because acknowledging their grievances means surrendering the exclusivity in international attention and sympathy that Palestinians demand for their plight.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died since the war erupted six years ago amid the Arab Spring, a figure that dwarfs the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in an entire century of conflict with the Zionists. But using mere numbers distorts the reality that the sacred Palestinian cause must forever remain the main priority for the Arab and Muslim worlds, and that the deaths of almost half a million, mostly at the hand of Assad and his allies, can at best be a distraction from the central goal of liberating Palestine from the clutches of the sinister Jew. If people begin to focus on the plight of the Syrian people, or even, Allah forbid, non-Muslims such as the Yezidi, our monopoly on victimhood is broken, and our raison d’être fades. So basically, to hell with Syria. Not that it has far to go.
I do not offer praise of our Fatah rivals easily, but in this case I must acknowledge the prescience of Mahmoud Abbas in never deviating from support for the Assad regime, even as Syrian soldiers and regime-allied militias massacred Palestinians along with everyone else. He showed shrewdness in realizing that implying sympathy for, or solidarity with, other oppressed populations would necessarily devolve into ceding the precious limelight to them, even if only partially. In a world in which every cause must be subordinated to the liberation of Palestine, such sharing of international attention detracts from the centrality of Palestine. It is other causes that we exploit, and not the other way around.
Others may argue that such an attitude betrays callousness to the great suffering of Syrians, but those arguments carry little weight. Palestinian leaders, be they from Hamas or Fatah, remain callous to our own subjects – the ones outsiders call “citizens” – to the point of refusing to admit Palestinians into our territory from refugee camps in Syria. Better they die there than imply that returning to anything other than pre-1948 Palestine is acceptable.
But don’t you dare discuss their plight only in the context of the Syrian conflict.
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