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memri
June 16, 2015 No.
6072

Saudi Journalist: Since Oslo, Handshakes Between Top Arab Officials And Their Israeli Counterparts Are Accepted Practice

The handshake, at a June 4, 2015 Washington conference, between Saudi Gen. (ret.) Anwar 'Eshqi, who served for years as a senior adviser to the Saudi kingdom,[1] and incoming Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold stirred criticism of Saudi Arabia in the Arab media and on social media. Critics charged that the handshake was a step towards normalization with Israel.[2]

Responding to these accusations, columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat Daoud Al-Shiryan, who is also former editor of Alarabiya.net, wrote that Saudi Arabia's detractors are hypocrites. He noted that other senior Arab officials, who had also shaken hands with senior Israeli officials, had not received similar treatment, and claimed that those attacking Saudi Arabia were members of the resistance axis and were therefore deliberately "playing up" the incident in order to distract media attention from the resistance axis' debacles and failures.

The following is the translation of Al-Shiryan's column:[3]  


The 'Eshqi-Gold handshake (Source: Raialyoum.com, June 5, 2015)

"The meeting between Anwar 'Eshqi, head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies [sic] in Jeddah, and Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, at a conference held by the American Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, has become an issue in several Arab media outlets. The attack on Saudi Arabia following this meeting reminded us of a similar attack that followed the handshake between Prince Turki Al-Faisal and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, at a session of the Munich Security Conference five years ago.[4]

"This is despite the fact that Prince Turki forced Ayalon to apologize when the latter asked Turki Al-Faisal to meet with him and shake his hand. The prince said to Ayalon: It is you who must come to me. When they met face to face, Ayalon said to the prince: 'I apologize for what I said.' Then the prince accepted his apology and adhered to his country's [official diplomatic] position.

"With regard to this meeting, some of the media forgot that the prince had refused to sit with Danny Ayalon because of his poor treatment of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel, and they focused [only] on the handshake between the two. Media and journalists interpreted this as a plan for normalization with Israel - and the same thing happened with ['Eshqi's] meeting [with Dore Gold].

"The Saudi position on normalization appears in the text of the Arab Initiative, and understanding it does not require interpretation by journalists and political commentators. This is in addition to the fact that handshakes between senior serving Arab officials and senior Israeli officials have not stopped since the Oslo [Accords], and no one in the Arab media considers this to be normalization. However, when [Israelis] shake hands with Saudis, even if they [the Saudis] hold no official position, then Saudi Arabia's 'friends' in the Arab media start complaining.

"[Thus, for example,] a few weeks ago, representatives from Arab countries met with Israelis at a conference in Jordan attended by Europeans and Americans. The purpose of the conference was to advance the security coordination between Israel and Arab countries. Those same 'heroes' in the Arab media did not talk about this conference. Likewise, they did not attack the late Edward Said, when he wrote in Al-Hayat asking Arab intellectuals to initiate contact with Israeli intellectuals and invite them to debates at universities, cultural centers, and public platforms in the Arab world. He said: 'What have we gained from all the years of refusal to hold contacts with Israel? Nothing but becoming weaker and weakening our image in the eyes of those hostile to us.'

"Undoubtedly, some of those Arab 'warriors' have [recently] discovered the failure of the 'resistance' of their parties and organizations,[5] and have chosen to camouflage this failure with the slogan of opposing normalization, and playing it up, making Saudi Arabia a scapegoat for this deception. It is obvious that this exaggerated opposition and fuss over normalization is a cover aimed at compensating for the weakness of the 'resistance' [camp]. However, this cover can no longer shield the false slogans [by this axis] that are leading us to perdition."

 

[1] 'Eshqi is founder and director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah. He served as a senior officer in the Saudi military for 35 years, and is a strategic expert and advisor to senior Saudi officials

[2] For example, Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 16, 2015, Raialyoum.com, June 9, 2015. Hashtags condemning the meeting and the handshake between the two were launched on Twitter For example, the hashtag "No to Normalization with Israel" Twitter.com/hashtag/%D9%84%D8%A7_%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B7%D8%A8%D9%8A%
D8%B9_%D9%85%D8%B9_%D8%A5%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%8A%D9%84?src=
hash and "Anwar 'Eshqi Disrespects Me" Twitter.com/hashtag/%D8%A3%D9%86%D9%88%D8%B1_
%D8%B9%D8%B4%D9%82%D9%8A_%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%8A%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%81%
D9%86%D9%8A?src=hash.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), June 15, 2015.

[4] In February 2010, during the annual Munich Security Conference, Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal and then-Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon shook hands. Turki Al-Faisal claims that the handshake was preceded by Ayalon's apology to Turki  for his insulting treatment of Turkey's ambassador to Israel, and his statement that Saudi Arabia was not assisting the Palestinian Authority  economically. For further details on Turki Al-Faisal's position on his meetings with senior Israeli officials, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5648, "Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal Defends His Participation In International Forums Alongside Israelis: It Does Not Contravene Islamic Shari'a, Is Aimed At Pressuring Israelis To Accept Arab Peace Initiative," February 14, 2014.

[5] The reference is to those advertising themselves as resistance groups such as Hizbullah.