The best way Hezbollah can help Palestine is to stay away
Late last week, Naim Qassem, the No. 2 of Hezbollah, met with representatives of Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Lebanon. Pro-Hezbollah media announced that the group expressed its support for the uprising in Palestine. On Thursday, three missiles were fired from Lebanon toward Israel but fell into the sea. Hezbollah denied any involvement. But its expression of support has rendered some Lebanese nervous. Will it mean a confrontation between Lebanon and Israel, which Lebanon badly needs to avoid? In light of the current events, an intervention by Hezbollah would not only be catastrophic for Lebanon, but would also harm the Palestinian position.
This latest Israel-Palestine confrontation is different from those of 2008 and 2014 — not because the Hamas rockets are able to break through the Iron Dome missile defense system or because Hamas has drones, but because international public opinion is starting to change. The transgressions of the Netanyahu government, driven by the settler mentality that keeps on grabbing Palestinian land and evicting people from their homes, are no longer tolerated by sections of the international community. While not long ago any criticism of Israel was labeled as anti-Semitic, today people are daring to speak out.
Israel built its support from the Western world on guilt toward the Jewish people. The West, which was unable to prevent the Nazis from slaughtering millions of Jews, felt responsible for finding the survivors a home and for protecting them. Thus, Israel was planted in the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, prompting resistance from the Palestinians and their neighbors. And Israel knew very well how to market itself as the David facing Arabs’ Goliath. There is almost an obsession in the Western consciousness about the maintenance of the state of Israel; hence the hype over its right to self-defense.
However, perceptions are starting to change. The West now feels it has given Israel enough support and allowed it to become strong. Now, faced with the belligerence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right, the West is beginning to question whether it helped create a monster.
It was shocking to see the UK’s Guardian newspaper — on the occasion of its 200th birthday this month — admit that it was wrong to support the Balfour Declaration. In 1917, the editor C.P. Scott wrote a leader column that stated: “The existing Arab population of Palestine is small and at a low stage of civilization.” The newspaper now admits Scott’s support for Zionism “blinded him to Palestinian rights.” The expression “Palestinian rights” is new to the media and intellectual glossary. But the discourse is changing from Israel’s right to self-defense to Palestinian rights. The world is seeing how Israel has abused its sympathy and feelings of guilt to keep people under occupation and tried to pacify them through oppression.
Also, the entire narrative of Israel being under attack is no longer valid. Israel has diplomatic relations with Arab countries. The narrative on which Netanyahu rode the wave of populism states: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.” But this mentality of a militarized society that is constantly under attack is no longer believed by the world. The world sees that Arab countries are not going to attack Israel and that it is Israel making people live under occupation and humiliating them day in, day out. They see the Palestinians rejecting the reality being imposed on them by their occupier.
The Palestinians are benefiting from this momentum. A group of US lawmakers last week gave speeches accusing President Joe Biden of siding with the occupation, while 150 liberal advocacy organizations issued a joint statement supporting the Palestinians in what they see as a struggle for dignity. The best way to keep the momentum is to ensure the current clashes are framed as a struggle for statehood and dignity. An intervention by Hezbollah would change this perception. Hezbollah represents Iran in all its might and Iran is today’s Goliath in the eyes of the Western world. Iran has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the planet and its proxy Hezbollah has precision missiles that can reach into the heart of the country.
Israel needs a confrontation with Hezbollah to overshadow the Palestinian narrative and frame itself as the victim.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
It could be said Israel needs a confrontation with Hezbollah to overshadow the Palestinian narrative and frame itself as the victim. This would also give Netanyahu an opportunity to justify Israel’s brutality against Gaza and garner international support. Internally, he would hype up the fear to rally the increasingly ideological population around him.
Iran and Hezbollah, if they are truly honest about supporting the Palestinian people, should leave them alone, as any intervention would destroy the moral high ground the Palestinians have developed in the eyes of the Western world. They would shift the discourse back from the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom to Israel’s right to self-defense.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.