Why the Palestinians are turning against al-Assad
August 3rd, 2012
01:18 PM ET

Why the Palestinians are turning against al-Assad

By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer is Vice President of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of ‘Hamas vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine.’ The views expressed are solely those of the writer.

Even if Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad somehow survives the current uprising aimed at toppling his regime, the beleaguered dictator will have a lingering identity problem. Indeed, a long-standing pillar of Syria’s foreign policy has been support to the Palestinian “resistance” against Israel. But in the wake of the Syrian onslaught, the country’s estimated 500,000 Palestinians are abandoning – even challenging – their long-time champion. With this dramatic shift, al-Assad is left more isolated in the Middle East than ever before.

Reports from the region continue to confirm what would have been deemed impossible just two short years ago: Palestinians are turning against the regime. Human Rights Watch notes that, “Palestinians have joined anti-government protests.” One FSA commander, meanwhile, has boasted, “Palestinians are fighting alongside us, and they are well trained.”

It doesn’t help that the regime is murdering Palestinians. On Thursday, the regime reportedly killed 20 when it shelled a refugee camp. Reports before that indicated that al-Assad’s campaign had already claimed the lives of some 300 Palestinians. It’s still unclear just how many Palestinians have responded by taking up arms to challenge the regime, but a clearer picture is emerging of who is abandoning al-Assad in his hour of need.

The most prominent Palestinian defection has been Hamas. The Islamic Resistance Movement, as it is officially known, established its headquarters in Syria in the late 1990s. Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal reportedly liaised with Iran and other regional financiers from this office, which also played a key role in supporting Hamas’ military operations in the Gaza Strip. Not surprisingly, when the Syrian uprising began in early 2011, the faction stood by their patron. But there is a level of violence that even a group designated a terrorist organization by the United States can’t bear. In February, as the body count continued to rise inexorably, Meshaal left Syria for Qatar. Amidst the ongoing violence, Hamas spokesman Izzak Reshak recently condemned Syria for massacring 17 Palestinians.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), another long-time Syrian client, meanwhile, has been careful not to directly challenge the regime, but it may also be on its way out. Reports in Middle East news outlets recently noted that PIJ figures were exiting Syria after more than twenty years of close economic and military cooperation. Despite some denials from the PIJ politburo, other faction leaders reportedly quit Syria and headed back to Gaza. A new report suggests that the group wants to move its headquarters from Damascus to Beirut or Cair

And while the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has had choppy relations with the Syrian regime, due mostly to disputes arising from Syria’s opposition to Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, the official voice of the Palestinians has also come out against Damascus. Last summer, a senior PLO figure lashed out at Syria. “We consider these actions to be part of the crimes against humanity that have been directed at the Palestinian people and their Syrian brothers who are also the victims of this ongoing bloody campaign,” he said. More recently, PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas flatly condemned the regime’s attacks on Palestinians.

Even the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), a force that answers to Assad’s military and is charged with policing Syria’s nine refugee camps, has reportedly refused to carry out acts of violence on behalf of the regime. For this, some have paid the ultimate price. Indeed, Syrian forces reportedly kidnapped 16 PLA members and slit their throats.  The regime insists that the PLA is still an arm of the military, but it’s unclear if the faction has done more than police the camps.

The one major faction that actively fights for the regime is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), led by Ahmed Jibril. Jibril has warned that his group would “take to the streets and fight on behalf of all those with honor and our Syrian brothers” to defend the Syrian regime. One Palestinian told the New York Times that Palestinians believe Jibril’s group is “working for [Syrian intelligence].” The group is even reported to have killed 14 fellow Palestinians in a refugee camp on behalf of the regime last June.

But Jibril is the exception. Nearly every other Palestinian faction that had once latched itself onto the al-Assad regime has quietly found a way to exit the country or loosen its ties.

To be sure, many Palestinians have long appreciated Syria’s political and financial assistance to Hamas, PIJ, Hezbollah, and other factions that have engaged in “resistance” against Israel. But it has become impossible for even these violent factions to support a state responsible for the deaths of an estimated 18,000 people.

Recently, on the website of the Beirut-based al-Akhbar, the Lebanese writer Amal Saad-Ghorayeb tried to argue that the “real litmus [test] of Arab intellectuals’ and activists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause is no longer their support for Palestinian rights, but rather, their support for the Assad leadership’s struggle..."

This argument suggests that al-Assad’s support for the Palestinians was never about the cause.  Rather, it was a pretense he wielded for legitimacy.

With the majority of Palestinians now seemingly abandoning the Syrian dictator, that pretense is now shattered.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Hahahahahahahahahahaha

    Because Palestinians are against EVERYONE!!!! Hahahahahahahahhahaha

    August 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
    • Bricz

      Feeling Racist today? or just ignorant?

      August 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
      • a bunch of haters

        80% of ppl on here hate.. dont understand histroy repeats it self... dont know histroy at all.. not just to study ur own histroy but european, mid east, world histroy ur whole politic views change.. atleast for those who have a straight path mind who dont hate.. and not envy palestinians

        August 6, 2012 at 3:46 am |
      • Nina

        a – envy Palestinians for what?

        August 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Paulo Carvalho

      Isn't it more like "Israel is against everyone" or even "The US is against everyone except Israel"?!

      August 9, 2012 at 6:07 am | Reply
      • Patrick

        If you believe that, I have a piece of land to sell you in Florida.

        August 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  2. salim B

    A stupid question: If Alqaeda terrorist and Hamas Islamic radicals are joining the repels against Assad, Why do we stand on same front as these two enemies of US.?
    Any one can please explain this puzzle to me? One might say the regime is part of Iranian ring, but we are punishing Iran for supporting Hamas, isn't it? So why do Hamas turn against Assad.

    August 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      A not so stupid answer: During WWII the US joined the Soviet Union to fight the Nazis. You see, the best way to deal with several enemies at the same time is to make them fight each other.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Reply
      • Indra

        During the gum kippur war, Israel threatened to initiate Samson option.

        Which would have ended the world.

        Best way to get what you want, is to threaten nuclear conflict, says Israel......

        August 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
      • Thinker23

        Indra... We're grown up adults here living and discussing REAL events in the REAL world. Look for the "Samson option" and similar fairy tales elsewhere.

        August 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
      • Paulo Carvalho

        As a matter of fact, it is indeed a stupid answer. First of all, the US didn't "join" the Soviets fighting the Nazis. The US only entered the war after being attacked in Pearl Harbor. In Europe, they were OK with the war, until they realized they were about to lose Europe to the Soviets. When the Soviets had the work done, then the US "intervened" in the so called D-day, in order to prevent the Soviets from taking Western Europe. They never fighted "side by side".
        Plus, the US didn't "make them fight each other". Perhaps you should read something about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that the Nazis didn't follow, invading USSR. That's why they fought each other.
        Last but not the least, Salimb B's question was not stupid at all, your answer was.

        August 9, 2012 at 6:06 am |
      • Patrick

        Paulo -Prior to entering World War II, the United States gave the Soviet Union and other countries millions of dollars worth of weapons and other support for their fight against Nazi Germany. The two nations became allies in the liberation of Europe. At war's end, countries occupied by Soviet forces, including a large part of Germany, were dominated by Soviet influence. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described this territory as being behind an Iron Curtain. The division provided the framework for the Cold War which ran from roughly 1947 to 1991.
        Your previous comment is either stupid or ignorant. Either way wouldn't want to be you!

        August 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
      • shut upp

        MANN IS WE ARE PPL DISCUSSING REAL TOPICS.. than stop making up crapp

        August 13, 2012 at 4:33 am |
  3. Jaybird

    I bet that the goons in Washington are glad to hear this news. It'll make it even easier for them to set up a pseudo-democracy in Syria itself after the "fall" of Assad?

    August 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Reply
    • bluesquid

      This is so ugly and one sided it makes me want to scream….You are going the wrong way USA!!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  4. Ian

    Why does the author keep referring to the Palestinian political leaders as "politburo members"? This isn't the Cold War. Is it just some linguistic framing device to remind us of their 'other-ness'?

    August 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      "Politburo" is a short for "Political bureau". Do you know what the official name of the Hamas Central Committee is?

      August 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  5. bluesquid

    What a bunch of crap, one sided and flawed.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
    • J. Foster Dulles

      You definately nailed it, bluesquid. The above report is quite disgusting just like all other propaganda from the right-wing news media these days!

      August 4, 2012 at 1:45 am | Reply
  6. d'evil

    Evil has a scale. This Assad regime is top of the scale. The rest must join force to bring down the worst evil doer.

    August 4, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply
    • J. Foster Dulles

      Wrong, d'evil. It's the M.I.C. that's running things in Washington D.C. these days that tops the scale that you're talking about. Even Obama himself just admitted giving help to those self-styled "liberators" in Syria! It appears that Bashar al-Assad is becoming more and more victimized by the West!

      August 4, 2012 at 1:51 am | Reply
  7. Matt

    The Palestinians are a fractured group made up of different factions inter and intra, but the FSA has been burning the flag of Palestine also.

    August 4, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
  8. Lee

    Plez show some moral value Mr Obama . Stop helping terrorist in Syria and stop this bloodshed . A revolution can not bring by Weapon rather it can be obtained by change in thinking . Syria is not ready for revolution even if Assad step down , liberal Democracy will not be emerged as people expect but we will see a civil war . So bloodshed will not be stopped . You are working to dismantle the region because Syria supports Palestine resistance . Only for your political and economic interest you did not hesitate to push one country in unrest which is claiming thousand people life . You can make people a complete fool by your news media but you can not make God fool if you are a believers as you claimed . Fear God for your responsibility as you have to answer about your activities to him . How logical your western people are ? Why do they concern about syria and why they silent about Burma ? Plez stop this terrorism in Syria and save people life . Although you do not think about life of your own brother who live at a slave in Kenya how can we expect you will feel sorrow for some innocent people who are not your brother .

    August 4, 2012 at 3:17 am | Reply
  9. Lee

    You sent UN Kofi Anan with peace plan to stop arm battle in same time you give secret order to arm opposition . What a good moral values do you have Mr Obama ?

    August 4, 2012 at 3:19 am | Reply
    • Killer O'Bama

      None at all Lee, none at all. But do you think that the average voter cares? Of course not or otherwise I wouldn't stand a chance at the polls!!! Thank goodness my opponent Mytt Robmey is no better!

      August 5, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
      • Nina

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Great laugh. Thanks, I needed that.
        A great act in Bollywood!

        August 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  10. j. von hettlingen

    Assad's regime supplied weapons to the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah and supported the Palestinian militant group Hamas but at the same time. This was a regime which kept the border in the Golan Heights with Israel very quiet for almost 40 years, which didn't go down well with the Hamas.

    August 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  11. a bunch of haters

    who ever on here speaks evil about not saving or doing good deeds for the sake of morals ... is down right dirty like assad..most of u on here are assad by heart... evilll haterss.. jealous..

    August 6, 2012 at 3:50 am | Reply
    • Nina

      "Jealous" of what?

      August 6, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
      • shut upp

        did anyone eva tell u ur annoyingg....why are u harrassingggg mee .. get a lifee.. GOO AWAY FLY >>

        August 13, 2012 at 4:31 am |
  12. EVN

    The Palistinians are finally realizing that their benefactor is a butcher – a very logical result once Assad began killing Palestinians in Syria, and not too different an outcome from what has unfolded as Assad gunned down those who dared to try to open up the country to reforms. Regardless of the turmoil that will likely evolve in the power vacuum left when Assad falls, the sooner someone puts a bullet in his head the sooner the Syrian people can begin sorting out the future of their country. Continuing to rally around Assad is like being afraid of the unknown the night brings while what you are rallying around is blacker and darker than the night could ever be.

    August 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • Rick Cain

      Syria invaded Lebanon to stop the killing. The Palestinians were destroying the country.

      August 24, 2012 at 6:14 am | Reply
  13. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

    I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti American, anti GB, anti semite, anti India, anti modern anything because I am a good moooooslem. I steal people's monikers because I am so ashamed of myself and post the most stupid comment. When people get angry with me, I claim insanity. I am the same guy.

    August 18, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
  14. Rick Cain

    Palestinians are hated worldwide. Jordan killed 30,000 of them when the Pals attempted to kill King Hussein. They turned Lebanon from a paradise into a war zone, and they're responsible for terrorism everywhere.

    The main problem are the Sunni Palestinians, followed by the Shia. The Christians don't cause very many problems at all, go figure.

    August 24, 2012 at 6:14 am | Reply
    • Voice of Reason

      Rick Cain, please try to put the palestinians view int your perspective. Let's say the place you lived in and the land you own was decided to be handed over to people who don't live their by world powers. Then you tried to get it back and failed, and now you are suffering the consequences of having to live in a small space with little water or supplies, little food or electricity, and you can't leave. Also watch out for drone strikes on you or your friends in family. In addition, christians cause problems as well not just palestinians.

      August 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Reply

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