President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that he is planning to visit Iran soon, although a date has yet to be decided. The Palestinian president, who was speaking to a delegation of Polish journalists in Ramallah following his resignation from the PLO Executive Committee on Saturday, said that Iran was “a sister and neighbor state.”
He acknowledged that relations have not always been strong, although he expressed gratitude for Iran’s recognition of the Palestinian state by accommodating a Palestinian embassy in Tehran.
The embassy formerly served as the Israeli embassy, before it was handed over to the PLO following the 1979 revolution in Iran.
In recent weeks, there have been several indications of warming relations between the two sides.
Earlier this month, the Palestinian Authority and Iran discussed the possibility of appointing an Iranian ambassador to the State of Palestine.
Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, told Ma’an that the idea was discussed with Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif during a meeting in Tehran as part of improving bilateral relations.
“Our relationship with Iran is an urgent necessity concerning international and regional developments,” Majdalani said, apparently referring to a historic deal world powers struck with Iran to end a 13-year dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
The two sides also reportedly discussed setting up a “high-profile” joint committee to arrange consultations on political issues, commerce, and educational exchanges, as well as possible Iranian support in efforts to implement political reconciliation between the PA and Hamas.
Political ties between the PLO and Iran have had a shaky history. Despite an initial outpouring of Iranian support for the PLO following the 1979 revolution, relations soon soured. Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, criticized Yasser Arafat for his pan-Arab agenda, believing the Palestinian cause ought to be aligned with the principles of Iran’s Islamic revolution.
Relationsfurtherdeteriorated after the PLO backed Iraq during its war with Iran from 1980 to 1988. They also suffered during the 1990s after the Palestinian leadership agreed to officially recognize Israel and engage in peace talks. In recent years, relations have been strained by Iran’s support for armed resistance movements competing with the PA, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which both — like Iran — have refused to recognize Israel.
‘Farce known as peace process’
There have been hopes in recent weeks that Iran’s nuclear deal will pave the way for wider regional stability, including progress toward a Palestinian-Israel peace settlement. At a panel discussion arranged by the Institute for Middle East Understanding last month, Lebanese columnist Rami Khouri said that the nuclear deal might improve relations between Iran and other Arab nations due to “the expected brisk expansion in commercial trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges.”
He added: “That can only positively influence other conflict situations like Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine, if there is political will to do so.”
However, others were less optimistic, pointing in particular to Israeli hostility toward Iran and the deal.
Palestine Studies Fellow Mouin Rabbani said: “I wouldn’t be overly concerned that this agreement is going to lead to yet another revival of the farce conventionally known as the peace process.”
He said that Israel would not allow it to happen “because even the most nonsensical of negotiations processes requires at least the pretense of an agenda and objective, and there is no formula available that would not cause the immediate collapse of this Israeli government, which it bears recollection is the most extreme in the state’s short history.” MAAN