A summary of news stories from the Arab media for Wednesday, August 12, 2009.

Hamas lost a golden opportunity

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas(L) shakes hands with Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal(R)

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas(L) shakes hands with Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal(R)

UAE’s The National writes:  If Hamas had not held Fatah members hostage in the Gaza Strip, and thus prevented them from joining their convention, Mahmud Abbas might have been considerate and released Hamas affiliates from prisons controlled by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, wrote Saleh al Qalab in an opinion piece in the Kuwaiti daily Al Jarida. Unfortunately, Hamas was unwilling to negotiate the matter. Khaled Meshaal, chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, was himself unable to implement pledges of the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad and senior Turkish officials to find a solution to the Fatah hostages in the Gaza Strip. This shows that Meshaal has limited power within his movement and that the actual leader remains Ahmed al Jaabari, the leading commander of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza.

“If Hamas allowed Fatah members to go to the convention, it would have established itself as a more responsible national movement. It would likewise have gained the trust and respect of Palestinians and the international community, as well. It is quite clear now that the decisions of Hamas are determined elsewhere and its interests overlap with those of other external powers. By taking this course, the movement will soon find itself the loser, especially as Mahmud Abbas is very determined to hold elections as soon as the beginning of next year.”

Israel Making Positive Steps on Prisoner Exchange Agreement- Egyptian Sources

Asharq Al-Awsat, based in London comments:  Informed Egyptian sources have confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that significant progress has been made in the Israeli – Palestinian negotiations mediated by Egypt towards reaching a prisoner exchange agreement. These sources revealed that this progress is not dramatic, but that it has taken place as a result of the positive steps taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The sources clarified that Netanyahu has agreed to resume negotiations with Hamas from the point that the previous negotiations undertaken by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had ended. The source stressed the positivity of this step to Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to Israeli sources, after the Netanyahu government came to power Hamas agreed to deport a number of prisoners upon their release. Palestinian sources indicate that this approval came following a referendum amongst the prisoners themselves over this issue. This agreement came as part of an Egyptian proposal for a comprehensive deal not just limited to prisoner exchange, but also including a truce between Hamas and Israel, internal Palestinian reconciliation of the Palestinian territories, and the launch of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Two-State Solution

Khaleej Times,  in the UAE:  The two-state solution has welcomed two converts. In recent weeks, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, have indicated they now accept what they had long rejected.

This nearly unanimous consensus is the surest sign to date that the two-state solution has become void of meaning, a catchphrase divorced from the contentious issues it is supposed to resolve. Everyone can say yes because saying yes no longer says much, and saying no has become too costly. Acceptance of the two-state solution signals continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle by other means.

Bowing to American pressure, Netanyahu conceded the principle of a Palestinian state, but then described it in a way that stripped it of meaningful sovereignty. In essence, and with minor modifications, his position recalled that of Israeli leaders who preceded him. A state, he pronounced, would have to be demilitarised, without control over borders or airspace. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and no Palestinian refugees would be allowed back to Israel. His emphasis was on the caveats rather than the concession. As Netanyahu was fond of saying, you can call that a state if you wish, but whom are you kidding?

As for Hamas, recognition of the state of Israel has always been and remains taboo. Until recently, the movement had hinted it might acquiesce to Israel’s de facto existence and resign itself to establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This sentiment has now grown from hint to certitude.

Fears arise of new Lebanon-Israel conflict amid escalating war of words

The Daily Star, Lebanon reports:  The war of words between Israel and the Lebanese resistance movement Hizbullah has heated up in the last week, raising fears that another war between Lebanon and Israel is imminent. On Monday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Lebanese government that it would be held responsible for any attacks on Israeli targets even if the attacks were carried out independently by the group.

“The government of Lebanon cannot just say ‘that’s Hizbullah,’ and hide behind them,” Netan­yahu was reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz as saying. “The government of Lebanon is in power and responsible.”

Nevertheless, according to Professor Samir Awad from the political science department of Birzeit University near Ramallah, an imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon is unlikely.

“It is Israeli rhetoric for domestic consumption particularly by a growing right-wing element. Israel knows a strengthened Hizbullah could inflict a serious blow on Israel, and it is not willing to take that risk,” said Awad.

Turkish-mediated talks won’t resume

Gulfnews, in Dubai states:  Israel under right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not resume Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria, insisting that any new negotiations be direct, a senior Israeli government official said Wednesday.

“We have enormous respect and great appreciation for the Turkish efforts. But they have not succeeded – not because of the Turks,” Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Reuters in an interview.

“It’s because of Syrian intransigence,” he added, saying there would be no new recourse to Turkish mediation.

Netanyahu’s centrist predecessor Ehud Olmert engaged Damascus through Ankara last year, with all sides reporting some progress. A political scandal that forced Olmert from office, and Israel’s January war in Gaza, put those contacts on hold.

Fatah old guard decimated

And finally,  the Arab News, Saudi Arabia reports:  Fatah appeared to have strengthened President Mahmud Abbas and reclaimed legitimacy with voters on Tuesday by unseating much of the “old guard” of the late Yasser Arafat.

Abbas telephoned Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on Tuesday. They discussed relations between the Kingdom and Palestine and the latest developments in the region, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Abbas, 74, gambled by calling the first congress of his fractious movement in 20 years, and won when its 2,300 delegates voted in a younger executive that will rejuvenate Fatah and consolidate his position as leader.

“This is an unexpected result. It’s a big change, a huge change,” said Naser Al-Kidwa, a nephew of Arafat. Preliminary results indicated Kidwa had won one of 14 seats on the decision-making Central Committee to change hands out of the 18 up for election. New faces replaced ageing veterans who failed to win re-election despite, in some cases, accusations of bringing in relatives and staff to vote as delegates.

(Photo credit: english.peopledaily.com.cn)

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