The Mahmouds. For years they’ve appeared publicly to be allies. When resources
were low, one rushed to the rescue of the other. When one of their rhetorical
wheels would run dry, the other would pipe in with eloquent axioms.
RELATED:Palestinians to Iran: Mind your own business
now, the truth about the Mahmouds has been revealed and these two former buddies
have fallen out in a public barrage of invective.
In the one corner, we
have disputed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the selfproclaimed champion
of the Palestinian cause and supporter of Palestinian militant
Opposing him stands disputed Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas, long-time symbolic leader of the Palestinian people, who finds
himself caught between American pressure to negotiate with Israel and popular
Arab opinion against such ventures.
The two Mahmouds started going at it
over the weekend as Abbas returned from the first direct Israeli-Palestinian
peace talks in almost two years.
Launched at the White House by US
President Barack Obama with much pomp and circumstance, Middle Eastern pundits
and politicians depicted the peace-making attempt as akin to an attempt to send
a space shuttle to Pluto.
But the Iranian president took the cake on
Friday with a tirade against Abbas during a Teheran University
“These talks are death,” he told the crowd of
thousands. “There is no reason to hold talks.”
“Who does Abbas
represent?” the Iranian leader asked. “Who gave him the mandate to negotiate on
behalf of the Palestinians? What will they talk about – Palestine? Who has the
right to surrender parts of Palestine to the enemy?” Abbas’s spokesman
immediately shot back, not only telling the Iranian president to mind his own
business, but accusing the embattled leader of oppressing his own
“He who does not represent the Iranian people, suppresses the
Iranian people and took power by fraud, has no right to talk about Palestine,
its chairman or his representatives,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told Wafa,
the PA’s official news agency.
“President Abbas was elected in a free
election, in the presence of more than a thousand international observers... We
defend our national rights and our national interests and we will not allow
anyone to threaten us or call into question the legitimacy of the Palestine
Liberation Organization headed by President Abbas.”
Dr. Ghassan Khatib, a
senior adviser to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, supported the criticism of
“I agree with what Mr. Rudeineh said,” he said.
“Perhaps not to this level of hostility, but the Iranians have been taking this
aggressive line against the Palestinian Authority all along, and they have been
supporting Hamas, the opponent of the Palestinian Authority.”
been significant tension between Fatah and Hamas since the death of Yassir
Arafat in late 2004. That tension became outright hostility in 2006 when Hamas
won the Palestinian legislative elections, leading to an awkward situation in
which Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas remained president of the PA while Hamas leader
Ismail Haniyeh led the government as prime minister.
between the two sides ended with Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007
and pushing Fatah out.
Iran is both politically and economically
supportive of Hamas, but this weekend’s exchange was a highly uncharacteristic
public discourse between Iran and the PA.
Hamid Teherani, Iran editor of
Global Voices Online, an aggregator of online opinion, said that while the
exchange marked a change in diplomatic behavior, the content was nothing
“It may be unprecedented for them to fight publicly, but it’s not
surprising given their policies,” he said.
“It’s very clear that Iran has
funded Hamas, and even back when Yassir Arafat started to negotiate with Israel,
Iranian leaders called him a traitor. Once an Iranian interior minister even
defended Arafat, saying that if the Palestinians want to make peace it’s up to
them, and he got in trouble for that comment. So there is nothing new
Sameh Habeeb, editor-in-chief of The Palestine Telegraph
in Gaza, agreed with Teherani.
“To me it was not
surprising. Ahmadinejad clearly supports Hamas so it’s obvious he would
be against Abbas,” he said.
“What’s funny is both of them are right.
Factually speaking, the accusation that Abbas is illegitimate is
term finished long ago, and has not been renewed by the Palestinian
Council. As for Ahmadinejad, he is in the same boat and also not 100%
legitimate, as we saw after the Iranian elections.”
Potkin Azarmehr, an
Iranian blogger supportive of the Green Movement, said he was pleased by
PA’s statements over the weekend.
“I’m actually glad,” he
“The Palestinians have been mainly silent about the opposition to
the regime in Iran, and there has been very little support from the
for the Green Movement in Iran, just a few intellectuals here and
“I wish Ahmadinejad would just shut up about the Palestinians and
deal with the mess he’s created in Iran,” Azarmehr said.
“If you treat
your people with so much brutality, how can you liberate anyone,
Palestinians?” But Kourosh Ziabari, an Iranian journalist and political
correspondent with the online Foreign Policy Journal, supported the
“In my view, Ahmadinejad was accurate and precise,”
he said. “It’s not Iran’s decision, but the Palestinians have voted in
the Hamas party, which means that Hamas represents the Palestinian
“If there is a democratic referendum in Palestine in which all
Palestinians from all regions take part, and they vote in favor of talks
Israel, that would be a democratic and legitimate decision,” Ziabari
that is not what happened.”