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Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held on 19/1/2021 the second session of the panel discussion, “The Palestine Issue: Strategic Evaluation 2020 – Strategic Assessment 2021.”

Participants included a group of researchers, scholars, specialists and those interested in the Palestine issue, who discussed the developments witnessed by the Arab, Israeli, Muslim and international landscapes, and discussed the most prominent projections for 2021.

The panel discussion was moderated by ‘Atef al-Joulani, and the main panelists included Prof. Dr. Ahmad Sa‘id Nufal, Prof. Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi, Dr. Ibrahim Fraihat and Dr. Sa‘id al-Haj.

Prof. Dr. Ahmad Sa‘id Nufal discussed the developments of the normalization with Israel in 2020 and its possible prospects for 2021. He said that the normalization of some Arab countries with Israel, according to their point of view, was for “their own interests,” but at the expense of the Palestine issue. However, he added, that time will prove that this step was not in the interest of these countries, because Israel does not only threaten the Palestinian people and the neighboring countries, but also threatens all Arab and Muslim countries.
Nufal added that the Arab countries have no right to recognize Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people, and questioned the future of normalization. For Israel is a racist entity that cannot integrate into Arab societies. The Arab peoples will reject normalization, they were not asked nor were their opinion taken by these normalizing governments, because these governments know that the people will not accept normalization at any cost. Nufal refused to believe that the Arab states that embraced the occupation did so in the interest of the Palestinian people, or that appeasement and peace settlements without returning Palestinian and Arab rights will yield results. He stressed that what was taken by force cannot be restored except by force.

The second panelist was Prof. Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi, who discussed Iran and the Palestine issue: Developments and Possible Prospects. He said that the most prominent thing that happened in 2020 was the Gulf-Israeli normalization agreement, and that it was a very dangerous matter. The danger lies in the notion of forming new alliances in the region that are based on the claim that the Palestine issue is no longer an important Arab issue, rather, the focus now must turn towards the threat coming from Iran. They claim that Israel is no longer an enemy. He said that it is unfortunate to say that this normalization was free of charge. ‘Atrissi considered the danger is in trying to mislead the peoples of the region by saying that this step was in the interest of the Palestine issue, not at its expense. This normalization is a gift to the US President Donald Trump, and with his blessing. ‘Atrissi warned that this normalization will have serious consequences, not only for Iran, but also for everyone in the region who resists the Israel. Security cooperation will be a priority for Israel, and that’s a threat to Iran’s national security; since Israel has technically become a regional neighbor to Iran through its relations and coordination with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. However, he added, Iran will comprehensively review the way it deals with these two countries, as the calculations are different this time. ‘Atrissi expected that the Resistance Axis parties will develop their cooperation and coordination in the coming stage, because the counterparties will work in a coordinated and thoughtful manner to achieve their plan. He called for the formation of the “Resistance to Normalization” axis, by having various parties and organizations in the Arab and Muslim world cooperate to confront this capitulation and normalization project.

The third panelist was Dr. Ibrahim Fraihat, who discussed the international, particularly US, influence on the Palestine issue and the possible prospects for 2021. He expected that the foreign policy of the US President-elect Joe Biden will oscillate between “the ghost of President Trump and the spirit of President Obama,” especially with regard to the Palestine issue. He said that although the Democratic and Republican parties have different approaches towards the Palestine issue lately, this change was not reflected in the new Biden administration. For example, Antony Blinken, a conservative Democrat who adopts the traditional line in favor of Israel, has been appointed Secretary of State. Fraihat expected that that Biden would preserve much, but not all, of what his predecessor Trump has done. For example, he will not move the US embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but he will stop Trump’s starvation policy against the Palestinians, by returning the US aid to UNRWA, some aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the financial aid paid to independent projects, such as some hospitals in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Biden will not endorse the major settlement building projects, as Trump has did, however, he will only oppose them through diplomatic statements and stances. Biden will not lead the normalization plans between the Arab countries and Israel, or impose them, but he will support them. He stressed that regardless what happens to the peace process, the US financial and military support for Israel will continue. He said that we must not have high expectations of what would the Biden administration do to the Palestine issue, and that Palestinians should have a plan to influence Biden’s policy. As for the EU, Fraihat ruled out Europe’s abandonment of its support for the Oslo Accords, whatever the circumstances are.

The fourth panelist was Dr. Sa‘id al-Haj who discussed the developments of Turkey and the Palestine issue, and the possible prospects for 2021. He considered that the Turkish position on the Palestine issue in 2020 has remained the same; supporting the two-state solution, supporting the Arab peace initiative, and cooperating with various Palestinian parties; The PA, Hamas and other factions. Despite the possibility of a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey during the Biden term, it is more probable that the political relationship will continue to be minimal and not return to its previous state. Al-Haj explained that Turkey’s position on the Palestine issue is usually formulated according to two considerations: First, the internal Turkish scene, the strength and influence of the Justice and Development Party, and its ability to introduce certain new variables to Turkey’s traditional policy. Second, the developments of the Palestine issue itself; If there were any Israeli aggression or new political developments, for example: severing ties in 2010 between Ankara and Tel Aviv, after the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara ship. Al-Haj also referred to the change in Turkish behavior towards the Palestinian reconciliation, when in September 2020, it hosted the Palestinian parties to discuss reconciliation. Al-Haj addressed the Turkish politics transformation after Joe Biden’s win and its willingness to communicate with Israel. He saw that Turkey’s political calculations concerning Biden’s administration’s (Especially with regard to imposing US economic sanctions on Ankara due to the Russian-made S-400 system and other issues) was the reason for the change in Turkey’s foreign policy including its relations with Israel.

There were many rich and important interventions including those of Ziad Bheis, Amin Hoteit, Usamah Hamdan, Fawaz al-Sousi, Mahmud al-‘Ailah, Majid al-Zibdeh, ‘Abdullah al-‘Akkad, Sari Hanafi, ‘Awwad al-Mahdawi, and ‘Ali Howeidi.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 20/1/2021