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What happened in Cairo - Nasser Lahham

July 31, 2010 3:28 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 2, 2010 5:30 P.M.)
Arab media has not paid enough attention, either deliberately or out of ignorance, to what could be described as a “tough political raid” in Cairo on Arab countries' attitude toward Israel over the past few days.

Palestinians have fought fierce battles against Arab countries to defend the independence of Palestinian decisions. In 1970, there was Black September in Jordan. In 1976, there was the Tel Az-Za’tar battle against the Syrian army in Lebanon, then the 1978 civil war in Lebanon and Maghdouche in 1983, among others. Despite all these battles to secure the independence of Palestinian political decisions, President Mahmoud Abbas decided to put the ball in the Arab countries’ court regarding the resumption of direct negotiations with Israel.

In fact, the Arab public -- including leftists, moderates and rightists -- knew that their leaders would never disappoint the US, and that they would ask Abbas to resume direct talks with Israel. However, the more optimistic among them expected a little hesitation before the leaders announced their decision, and were surprised that Qatar, Syria and other countries rushed to urge Abbas to agree to US demands so quickly.

Last Tuesday, Abbas attended a meeting in Cairo with a committee of foreign ministers from 13 Arab countries, authorized to follow up with the Arab Peace Initiative adopted in the Beirut Summit of 2002. Arab League chief Amr Mousa attended the meeting, which was dedicated to discussing the peace process and the ongoing indirect proximity talks.

The follow-up committee concluded their Cairo meetings with Abbas on Thursday, and agreed “in principle” that the president should resume direct talks with Israel, but with conditions. A message was sent to the US president following the meeting to notify him of the Arab countries’ position.

The decision was condemned by Palestinian factions who described it as “submission” to US pressures. Meanwhile, Israel welcomed the decision.

For its part, the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, slammed the decision, calling it “submissiveness to a de facto imposed by Israel, and yielding to pressures exerted by US President Obama who is siding with Israel for the sake of internal US calculations related to the upcoming elections.”

The Islamic Jihad movement reiterated its rejections of a resumption of direct negotiations. Senior leader Khalid Al-Batsh said during a rally in Gaza, “We expected the leaders of the Arab world to take action to protect the besieged Palestinian people and support their just rights.”

He added, “Instead of punishing the enemy for its crimes and instead of boycotting Israel, we find that once again, the Arabs provided the extremist Israel government with the safety equipment.”

Muhammad Dahlan, who was once Fatah’s strongman in the Gaza Strip, currently commissioner for media, said his movement wanted guarantees before moving to direct negotiations.

Chief editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper Abdul-Bari Atwan entitled his editorial “Congratulations for resuming negotiations.” He wrote, “Even the Arab League chief Amr Mousa did not coin his words as usual to save the face of the Arab countries’ official system. The old equation is still in effect: Israel sets the demands, the US adopts them, and the Arab countries submissively execute them without any discussions.”

Nasser Lahham is the editor-in-chief of the Ma'an News Agency.

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