Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Palestinians left wondering as Saudi paper takes Netanyahu’s side - Ben Lynfield

by Ben Lynfield

The editorial, published Sunday in the Saudi Gazette, seemed to depart in tone from the widely-held position in the Arab world that Israel is responsible for the impasse with the Palestinians.

A Saudi newspaper editorial that took issue with Palestinians for not responding positively to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation last week to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to address the Knesset has touched off surprise and criticism from Palestinian leaders.

‘’Whoever wrote this editorial is totally unaware of the reality of this so-called invitation,’’ said PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi. “It is a very obvious public relations trick that’s been overused. If Netanyahu wants peace, let him abide by the requirements of international law, the two-state solution and the 1967 boundaries.’’

The editorial, published Sunday in the Saudi Gazette, a daily published in Jeddah that has a woman editor-in-chief, seemed to depart in tone from the widely-held position in the Arab world that Israel is responsible for the impasse with the Palestinians. It likened Netanyahu’s proposal that the two leaders address each other’s parliaments, to Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s 1977 invitation to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to visit Israel, and implied it could also lead to a breakthrough. Begin made the invitation “and the rest is history,’’ the editorial said.

“For all its shortcomings, Camp David demonstrated that negotiations with Israel were possible and that progress could be made through sustained efforts at communication and cooperation,’’ it added.

As another example of how “official visits can bend the arc of history’’ the paper cited then-US President Bill Clinton’s 1998 visit to the Gaza Strip to address the Palestinian National Council on the day it deleted clauses calling for the destruction of Israel from the PLO charter.

The editorial said that Palestinians had rejected overtures from Netanyahu with the explanation that his hard-line position on all core issues made dialogue impossible.

“But the Palestinians should note that at that time, Egypt and Israel were mortal enemies having fought three wars.’’

The editorial went on to second guess the Arab world for rejecting Camp David, saying “in hindsight if the provisions had been carried out, Israel and the Palestinians might not be in the impasse they are at present.’’ Saudi Arabia was a leader of the Arab opposition to Camp David.

Ashrawi took issue with the analogy to Egyptian-Israeli peacemaking. “It’s not a question of Egypt and Israel, two countries that wanted to make peace, it’s a question of an occupying force that is destroying the other state and it’s about people under occupation who have no right and no power.’’

The editorial comes two months after a Saudi delegation of academics and businessmen, led by retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki, touched off criticism in the Arab world for openly visiting Israel and meeting with officials and MKs. There was speculation that the trip reflected a quiet development of discrete ties between the countries based largely on their having a common enemy, Iran.

Palestinians are wary that any normalization with Israel by Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries would represent a sellout of their cause and undermine their position vis-à-vis Israel.

Ashrawi said she thinks that “below the surface there are contacts [between Israel and Saudi Arabia] and all sorts of security considerations and Israel is positioning itself to be a regional power.’’ But she added: “No matter what happens, they won’t recognize or normalize with Israel because it hasn’t respected Palestinian rights and international law. Once the Palestinian issue is resolved things can move. Before that they might have secret contacts, but they can’t afford to lose their own constituency.’’

Former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister Ghassan Khatib termed the editorial “very strange and difficult to explain. I doubt this represents an official position,’’ added Khatib, who is vice president of Birzeit University.

“It’s not consistent with what we hear from them on the official lines. We know the political landscape in Saudi Arabia and the public opinion atmosphere. Looking at that, I find it difficult to believe that this is the official line.’’

In a separate development, a leading Saudi journalist has warned that the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies will exploit America’s preoccupation with the presidential election and then use the “lame duck’’ transition period before the new president enters the White House to “change the reality on the ground’’ in Syria and present the new president with a fait accompli.

Abdul-Rahman al-Rashed, former editor of the Saudi owned Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote in that newspaper that the Russians and the Syrian regime already perceive a vacuum in Washington, and that is why they are intensively bombing Aleppo, Syria’s largest city “without the slightest fear of an international reaction.’’

Last week’s bombing of a humanitarian aid convoy that killed 21 people should also be seen in that context, he wrote, and then predicted “more massacres and violations of international law in order to break what remains of the Syrian people’s resistance and change the map of the region.’’

The fall of Aleppo would be a major turning point in the war, making it easier for the regime to “destroy the remaining parts of the country,’’ Rashed wrote. The intensified Russian and Syrian military activity and fall of Aleppo would lead to a million more refugees heading to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, he added.

Al-Rashed criticized the Obama administration for lacking the resolve to face down the Russians and Iranians. “The hope is that the coming American president will be less committed towards the Iranians than the current president, and more courageous in facing the Iranian and Russian advance, not necessarily with a direct American military presence, but by allowing other countries to arm the opposition and offer succor to it with information and significant diplomatic support.’’

Ben Lynfield


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