Why Israel supports a Kurdish state

Sep 19,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – Osama Al Sharif

Amid tensions engulfing a planned independence referendum by the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, on September 25, it was Israel’s blind support for a Kurdish state that added a dangerous twist to an already volatile situation.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated an earlier position by supporting “legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve a state of their own”.

Thus, Israel became the first and only state to support an independent Kurdistan, stirring the ire of Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish governments and officials.

Regardless of where Iraq’s neighbours and international players stand on the controversial issue of Kurdish independence — all are against it for now — Israel’s seemingly sympathetic attitude towards the historic struggle of the Kurds to win their own state is both poisonous and duplicitous.

Nothing would serve Israel’s interests more than for this wounded region to be sucked into a fresh cycle of turmoil and violence.

Netanyahu and his far right allies know very well that a unilateral Kurdish decision to cede from Iraq in the absence of an agreement over a number of contentious issues, least of which is the future of oil-rich Kirkuk province, would trigger a civil war that is likely to spill over.

The Kurdish people, scattered over large areas in northern and northeastern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria, do have a legitimate case. They were denied their own state when the victorious imperial powers of World War I carved out the Levant following the defeat and subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

That process, known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, also paved the way for the creation of Israel in Palestine more than two decades later.

But while the Sunni Kurds have always lived on their historic lands, European Jews were encouraged to emigrate and colonise a land that was never theirs.

By supporting Kurdish statehood, Israel hopes to steer the region in a new direction and, by extension, encourage other ethnic and religious groups in the region to seek to emulate the Kurdish example.

By deliberately seeking to dismantle the existing multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation states, Israel’s quest to be recognised as a purely Jewish state would no longer be an aberration.

Or so it hopes.

Of course, the hypocrisy and double standards emanating from such policy are self-evident.

If Israel recognises the right of indigenous peoples in the region to self-determination, why does it continue to deny that right to the Palestinians?

Its racist and discriminatory laws and policies, both against its own Arab citizens and against the Palestinians under occupation, contradict its publicised, and false, image as a self-proclaimed democratic state; “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

Netanyahu’s apparent sympathy with the Kurdish cause is meant to blackmail Turkey, weaken Iraq and intimidate Iran.

For Ankara, the Kurdish issue is one that is at the heart of its national security.

It is unfortunate that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s earlier policy of opening up to Turkey’s Kurdish minority and allowing it additional self-rule powers failed.

The central government in Baghdad should do its best to renegotiate past agreements with Iraqi Kurds in order to avoid the possible breaking up of the country.

The Kurds have made a convincing case about rampant corruption, sectarian and vindictive policies and religious divisions that have gripped the Baghdad government for years and eventually led to the creation of Daesh.

And just as Israel supported non-Arab separatists in South Sudan for decades, it finds it essential to its own survival to align itself with ethnic and religious minorities in other parts of the Arab world.

It tried that in Lebanon, too.

Ties with Iraqi Kurds go back to the 1960s, when Israel supported the rebellious province against the Baghdad regime.

It would not be surprising to discover that Israel had established contacts with Syria’s Kurds, who are now fighting Daesh in eastern Syria and threaten to clash with the Syrian army in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region.

Destabilising the region and weakening central governments will shift attention from Israel’s nefarious policies towards the Palestinians, while hastening the process of colonisation of what remains of the West Bank.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders should be wary of Israeli overtures at this crucial stage.

They should remember that regardless of the outcome of the current crisis, it is with Iraq, Turkey and Iran that they should make peace and normalise relations.

They cannot escape their geographic destiny.

Associating themselves with a country that continues to usurp Palestinian right to self-determination and is overseeing the longest occupation in modern times will eventually backfire and hurt their cause.

The onus should be on Israel to finally recognise Palestinians’ right to be free and live in their own state.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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