On September 25, 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan held a referendum on the region's independence; the result was overwhelmingly in favor of a split from Iraq. The Palestinian Authority (PA) released no official response to the referendum and its results, and the Palestinian press reported it only briefly. The PA daily Al-Ayyam was the only outlet to publish opinion pieces on it. These pieces ranged from expressions of absolute support for Kurdish independence to support qualified by concern over such a move in light of opposition from Kurdistan's neighbors and other risks that the new state would face. Some called on the Kurds to actualize their independence through coordination and understanding with their neighbors.
Referendum celebrations in Kurdistan. Source: Al-Ayyam, PA, September 26, 2017
The following are translated excerpts from these articles:
"The Kurds Have A Right To Determine Their Own Destiny, Without Foreign Intervention"
As noted, several of the articles in Al-Ayyam expressed absolute support for the Kurds' independence. Writer and journalist Muhannad 'Abd Al-Hamid wrote that the Kurds' connection with Israel is no justification for rejecting their right to independence, and called on the Palestinians to support them because they shared the same fate. He wrote:
"There is a big difference between using [the excuse] of Israeli-Kurdish relations to deny the Kurdish people's legitimate rights... and exposing the truth regarding these relations, which cause damage to the interests of the Kurds and the Arabs. The grave error made by the Kurdish political elite in [maintaining?] relations with the apartheid Israeli state [must be] clarified, along with continuing the support for the Kurds' rights and strengthening the [Arabs'] alliance with the Kurdish people and the democratic elements among them...
"Throughout the history of this region, where the Kurds live, they have [experienced] only denial of [their] rights, discrimination, and tarnishing [of their image] with accusations that they are cooperating with the enemies, as well as repression of any attempt [on their part] to demand rights. The Kurds have a right to determine their own destiny, without foreign intervention. There is not one justification for opposing a referendum that will inform the world about the situation of an oppressed people and whether they are interested in separating from Iraq or continuing to be linked [to it].
"Why are millions of Kurds denied the right to self-determination? Why must they remain at the mercy of failed, corrupt, and dictatorial governments? It is [more] logical for the Palestinian people, which suffers similarly from the colonialist Israeli regime, to support the Kurdish people's effort at self-determination, including the right to establish an independent state, and at the same time to believe that the Kurdish people will end Israel's [involvement] in its cause, now and in the future, and that it will continue to struggle alongside the Palestinian people to end the colonialist occupation [of Palestine] and [actualize] the right to self-determination."
Journalist and Palestinian National Council member Hamada Fara'aneh expressed his absolute support for the Kurds' right to self-determination despite their ties to Israel. Harshly criticizing Iraq, Iran, and Turkey for preventing them from actualizing this right, he wrote:
"As self-respecting Arabs, we cannot disrespect the other. Our entire Arab people lives in partnership with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, with the Berbers in the North African countries, and with the Africans in the Horn of Africa. Since we as Muslims and Christians – Arabs and non-Arabs – recognize pluralism, we will not in any way oppose the Kurds' right to hold a referendum [just] because the Zionist enemy and the imperialist expansionist Israeli enterprise supports it...
"Our support for the Kurds' right to hold a referendum for self-determination, even independence if they want it – and they are entitled to it – is not aimed at angering Turkey and Iran. These two are not our [i.e. the Arabs'] enemies. They are neighbors and share our history, culture, and religion, whatever disagreements there may be between us about their policy and their gross interference in our countries... We support the Kurds as a different nation from us, that shares that same history, the same geography, and the same Islamic religion, whatever our disputes with them, past or future...
"The land and air siege on Kurdistan declared by Turkey and Iran, in the framework of which [they] took economic, security, political, and diplomatic steps against it, is like the oppressive and repressive Israeli siege on Palestine's Gaza Strip. This proves that the contradiction between the political positions of Tel Aviv, Tehran and Ankara is evaporating. [These three] are becoming identical – [all of them] oppose pluralism, democracy, human rights, and others having the right to choose and having the right of self-determination... [But] we will continue to support the Kurds' right to an independent national identity, because we oppose injustice, enslavement, domination, and eradication of the other. We will continue to be brothers, friends, and neighbors to the Kurds, whether they are united with the Arabs in Iraq and Syria or choose another path."
It Will Be Best For The Kurds If Their State Is Established In Coordination With Their Neighbors – Not By Struggling With Them
Alongside this absolute support, there were also those who expressed reservations, and pointed out the problems that might emerge because of the Kurds' insistence on an independence referendum despite the vehement opposition of its neighbors.
Journalist and former PA minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf Al-'Ajrami stressed that the Palestinian cause had been pushed off the global agenda. He wrote:
"We, the Palestinians, must support the Kurdish people's right to self-determination and independence, but this must be actualized through mutual understanding with Iraq's central government, and must be timed to help all Iraqis pass through this stage with a minimum of damage and in such a way as to actualize the interests of all. This is because independence in a framework that will give rise to new conflict will harm Iraq, and particularly the Kurds...
"We must remind the world that the Palestinian people has been bent under the yoke of the occupation for over 50 years, and that this issue must be at the top of the issues that are on the international agenda. It is not right for the world, and for the superpowers that caused our tragedy, to continue with their partiality towards international crises and conflicts, and towards matters involving persecution, oppression, and depriving peoples of their rights..."
Researcher and journalist 'Abd Al-Ghani Salama expressed his support in principle for the Kurds' right to self-determination, but also outlined the fears that Iraqi Kurdistan would not be able to function as an independent state because of sanctions imposed by Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. He called on the Kurds to continue their struggle for national self-determination in coordination with Iraq's central regime:
"The Arab street, and the Palestinian street in particular, is divided between supporters and opponents [of Kurdish independence], and there are no statistics on which of the two groups is larger... There is no doubt that the Kurds have suffered historical injustice, that they have been deprived of the right to self-determination, and that the four countries under whose aegis they are living have made life difficult for them and stripped them of their national rights, even their citizenship. Therefore, in light of the tremendous sacrifices that they have made, and after their long path of bitter struggle, they are entitled to independence, and to live in freedom, dignity, and peace on their historic land. [True,] we Palestinians were and remain supporters of Iraq, and have identified with it with all our might in the aggressive wars carried out against it. But at the same time, we [also] identify with the Kurds' right to self-determination and their legitimate right to a national democratic state, because those who struggle for freedom and independence [themselves], and who believe in the justness of their [own] path, must show solidarity with all those whose struggle is similar, because justice cannot be partial [to one group over another].
"All this is [true] in principle, but we must persist in asking: What is more important, peoples' and minorities' right to self-determination, or maintaining the unity of the land and peace among its residents?... Are countries' borders more important than people's lives? Does winning wars supersede the value of peaceful coexistence among people of different origins? Are Iraq's borders and the Sykes-Picot borders sacred? Are they more sacred than the lives of its citizens?...
"In principle, the Kurds have a right to a referendum. At the very least, this is a democratic move carried out in a nonviolent and civilized fashion. It is a legitimate and recognized move in order to find out the intentions and aspirations of the people. Thus, since the referendum has shown that the majority of the Kurdish people support an independent state, the entire world must respect and support this wish.
"But more importantly, because the Kurdish attempts to split off [from their countries] will have destructive consequences, we must express reservations regarding the Kurdish leadership's insistence on continuing with the plan for secession, particularly at this time, due to the following fears:
"Baghdad opposes the idea of a Kurdish state because it will deprive Iraq of substantial territory that is of considerable security and economic importance...
"As far as the Kurds are concerned, splitting [from Iraq] will create a landlocked country surrounded on all sides by hostile states, unable to export its oil and other products and unable to import food and other needs... Moreover, this move may destroy the entire Kurdish dream, and postpone [its actualization] to an unknown future time, or even permanently.
"Accordingly, and in consideration of [Kurdish and other] interests, the Kurdish leadership [in Iraq] must moderate its steps and conduct its struggle wisely, and based on consent and reconciliation, beginning with Baghdad, after that with its neighbors, and ultimately with the international community. If it does not, there is a likelihood of national and sectarian wars breaking out, and they will not end in the foreseeable future.
"The Kurds have suffered greatly and the time has come for them to enjoy independence. This region has suffered from catastrophes, wars, and destruction, and it is time for its peoples to live together in coexistence, security, peace, and dignity, and abandon wars, racism, and tyrannical regimes..."