Palestinian couple observing a house demolition. (Getty Images)

Iran and Palestinian Authority Bicker Over Money

Islamic Republic sending funds to the families of deceased attackers

The Palestinian Authority has publicly rejected money from the Islamic Republic of Iran sparking a diplomatic spat between the Middle East minnow and the regional heavyweight. Funds earmarked for families whose relatives were killed while conducting attacks against Israelis should go through the correct channels, Ramallah said.

Mohammad Fathali, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, said last week that his government would pay $30,000 to any family whose home in the West Bank was demolished by the Israeli military. This is in response to the long- running Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes as punishment for attacks against Israelis by a member of the family. Fathali also announced that families who had a relative killed during an attack on Israelis would receive $7,000.

What angered the Palestinian Authority (PA) was the fact that Iran said it would transfer this money directly to the recipients, rather than allowing it to pass through existing Palestinian channels.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urged Iran to, “send this money through official channels to the (PA’s) Martyrs and Prisoners Foundation rather than relying on informal and circuitous routes.”

Iran has consistently supported Palestinian aspirations for an independent state since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power there. Prior to the revolution, Iran and Israel, both non-Arab players in the Middle East, were close allies. Famously, following the revolution, Iran turned the Israeli embassy in Tehran over to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the same ideological movement that now controls the West Bank as the PA.

Support for Palestinian independence is a natural policy for Iran to espouse for two main reasons, Eldad Pardo, an Iran expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “Iran has this ideology of uniting (all) Muslim peoples… (and has) a commitment to supporting freedom fighters and the dispossessed everywhere,” Pardo said.

Furthermore the Islamic Republic has for the last four decades sought to work through proxy actors across the region and establishes them wherever it can. “The idea is that they advance through defense – a jihad which is always defensive and advancing gradually,” Pardo explained.

Previously, this suited Palestinian nationalist movements just fine. Hamas, the armed Palestinian Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip, has for years been the recipient of smuggled Iranian weapon systems, according to Israeli military and intelligence chiefs.

Palestinians are inclined to take help where they can get it, Abdelrahman Ibrahim, from the political science department’s teaching staff at Birzeit University in Ramallah, told The Media Line. “Our relations with Iran should be good because we can’t ignore them as a super power in the region and we need any support we can get,” the political scientist said.

Once Iraq, Syria, and Egypt were regional powers that Palestinians could look to for support, but in recent years these countries have been caught up in their own domestic problems, Ibrahim said. Iran remains a possible ally. Saudi Arabia is another.

There lies a problem. Like many small and medium actors in the Middle East, Palestinians are being hit with the ramifications of Saudi Arabia and Iran’s regional power struggle. Hamas went as far as distancing itself from Iran following the latter’s support for the Assad regime in Syria, but subsequently reversed its decision on account of financial pressures, Ibrahim noted.

When it comes to the contest between the two regional heavyweights, Palestinians would do well to avoid being sucked in, the academic said, explaining that, “we don’t have enemies. We have one enemy – the state of Israel which occupies our lands.”

As to why Iran would choose to flex its financial muscles at the PA, Eldad Pardo has an answer. “It’s a propaganda move and an effort to undermine the Palestinian Authority, because it is considered an American tool that works with Israel.”

In doing so Tehran undermined Palestinian “sovereignty,” Abdelrahman Ibrahim said – an ironic position for a state that supported Palestinian independence for decades.

“The only reason the Palestinian Authority stood against the move to support the families is because they want any support to go through them,” Ibrahim concluded.

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