In the course of antagonizing nearly the entirety of the international community, Kim Jong-Un’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has retained at least one proud admirer: Mahmoud Abbas. Yesterday, the Palestinian Authority president congratulated the North Korean despot on the occasion of his country’s “liberation day.” Abbas’s statement expressed “appreciation for Korea’s firm solidarity in support of the rights of our people and [our] just struggle to end the occupation,” and wished the leader ”health and happiness.” Abbas’ statement on South Korea’s National Day, which is also on Aug. 15, was muted in comparison.
Bestowing one’s blessings upon Kim, fresh off of an international nuclear standoff of the North Korean’s creation, sure seems like a diplomatic misstep, maybe even a small-scale replay of the Palestinian national movement’s equally lonely and inevitably costly support for Saddam Hussein during his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Today’s statement, like that crisis, highlights a key continuity in Palestinian foreign policy: The leadership has historically shown unapologetic appreciation for their supporters, regardless of how toxic those backers may seem to the rest of the world or how counterproductive those alliances might be for the Palestinians’ long-term standing. For another example, you need only look back at Abbas’s message congratulating Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on his “re-election” in 2014, and his Fatah movement’s re-establishing ties with Assad’s beleaguered and isolated regime in 2015.
North Korea is an illustrative case. Pyongyang has supported Palestinian militant groups since the mid-1970s. North Korean armed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, leading a US federal judge to find the Kim regime liable for the 1972 Lod Airport massacre in 2010, while Yasser Arafat traveled to the North Korean capital a half-dozen times and was on friendly terms with the regime’s founder Kim il-Sung. More recently, North Korea has repeatedly been caught attempting to ship weapons to both Hamas and Hezbollah.
The Kim regime’s affinity for the Palestinian cause is equally unsurprising. Despite owing its existence to the intervention of a foreign power, the DPRK sees itself as the anti-colonial vanguard, joined in the same world-wide struggle against imperialism as its Palestinian comrades. And the Israelis haven’t always viewed the Kims as implacably hostile. According to a 2006 report in Haaretz, in the early 1990s, Israel explored the possibility of giving North Korea a reported $1 billion in economic aid as an inducement for suspending its missile programs. The deal never went through. “Mossad got wind of the plan and sent its own delegation to Pyongyang to torpedo it,” an arms control expert familiar with the negotiations wrote last year. “Apparently competing delegations from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Mossad ran into each other when they took the same flight out of Pyongyang.”