The timing of the release of the interview with the assassin of Abu Jihad is rather curious. And, so was the interview on Israeli television with the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. Both topics were widely covered in this week’s papers as Arab pundits pondered the implications. “What did Mahmoud Abbas say?” queried Hazem Saghiya in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
“More importantly, the principle of the right of return cannot be equated with the notion of a two-state solution to the Palestinian question. It is naive of us Arabs to presume that Israelis would accept the return of 6.5 million Palestinians to their original homeland to live in peaceful co-existence with the Israelis,” noted Saghiya. “Mahmoud Abbas knows more than any other person the relative weakness of the Palestinians vis-à-vis the Israelis,” Saghiya concluded, stressing the “courage” and “discernment and political acumen” of the Palestinian leader.
“No doubt the remarks of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came as a shock even for those pragmatists who share his political perspective concerning the resolution of the Palestinian question,” wrote Mohsen Al-Zaghlami in the Tunisian daily Al-Sabah.
In an article entitled ‘Refugee from Safad’ in Al-Sabah, Al-Zaghlami derided the Palestinian leader’s relinquishment of the Palestinian people’s right to return to their original homelands that they forcibly left in 1948. The writer warned that the pronouncements by Abbas do not serve the cause of the Palestinians.
Al-Sabah also tackled the prickly question of the release of the interview in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot with the commando Nahum Lev, the assassin of Khalil Ibrahim Al-Wazir better known as Abu Jihad and the right-hand man of the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Why was the interview with the assassin of Abu Jihad released more than a quarter of a century later? The paper reported that two Tunisian lawyers Abdel-Raouf Al-Eyadi and Abdel-Maguid Al-Abdali announced that they are to sue Israel over Abu Jihad’s assassination. Is it part of the terror tactics of the Israelis or is it a direct result of the power struggle within the Israeli political establishment in the run-up to the Israeli general election?
The incident uncovered the 25-year veil of secrecy that enabled the Israelis to hide from the public numerous heinous activities of the shadowy world of Israeli secret operations by the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit Sayeret Matkal. Two current high profile Israeli officials were implicated: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli Deputy Premier Moshe Yaalon, then head of the elite commando unit, Al-Sabah revealed.
The curious case of the Israeli strike on the Yarmuk Complex in Sudan also attracted the attention of Arab commentators. The fracas between Tunisian security forces and Salafis featured prominently.
The failure of the Eid Al-Adha truce in Syria coupled with the unconvincing attitude of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi hit the headlines. The Chinese four-point initiative raised eyebrows and Arab-Iranian relations continued to predominate in the press. The crisis of confidence in the international community resolving the Syrian impasse preoccupied the minds of several pundits.
The Syrian fighter pilot who flew to Jordan and sought political asylum cropped up in several editorials. Thousands of officials and lower-ranking personnel are reported to have defected from the Syrian army and civilian administration.
Faith in Lakhdar Brahimi’s diplomatic skills as a mediator was tested by the fast deteriorating security situation in Syria. The role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in instigating the Syrian crisis was quizzed. On the other hand, it was acknowledged that Brahimi will be deeply reluctant to antagonise the regime in Damascus.
The general mood was pessimistic. “Whoever follows the news emanating from Arab dailies every morning must feel deeply depressed,” Mustafa Al-Feki wrote in an article entitled ‘Margins on the diary of Arab sorrows’ in Al-Hayat.
“Every Arab country has its own specificity and therefore its own problems are unique, even though the general infrastructure and the historical heritage have much in common,” Al-Feki stressed.
“The Islamic revolution of Iran created an international and regional dimension that cannot be ignored. It severed more ties than it mended fences,” Al-Feki noted.
“I am not praising the regime of the late shah of Iran; on the contrary. What I do stress is that my reservations about the Islamic revolution of Iran is that it left its neighbours and international powers fearful and suspicious of it motives and its political agenda.”
El-Feki commenced his scathing critique of Iran, pointing out that Iran has lost much international sympathy in spite of the fact that it has gained the respect but lost the love of fellow Muslim nations.
The writer alluded to the fact that many clerics in predominantly Sunni Arab countries suspect that Iran is bent on spreading Shia Islam in the region, including as he pointed out, Egypt’s most venerable Islamic religious institution Al-Azhar. However, Al-Feki concluded that in spite of the current crisis in relations between Iran and the Arab world, he is optimistic about future relations. “We have to differentiate between the Israeli and Iranian incursions into the Arab world. Israel is a racist, expansionist and aggressive state. Iran, on the other hand, does have its own agenda, but it is a far more benign one and it is based on exporting its own particular ideological orientation,” Al-Feki summed up.
Also in Al-Hayat, the Iraqi writer Hamid Al-Kafaai embarked on a scathing criticism of the ideas that are detrimental to the ethnic Kurdish population of the country. The writer urged the Shia majority population of Iraq to take a stand in support of the Kurds of the country.
“Hiding behind the banner of religion in an attempt to peddle militant and extremist religious views is a most dangerous exercise. The endorsement of the Shia religious authorities or even their lack of enthusiasm for championing the Kurdish cause will only sour relations between the two communities. Apathy towards the Kurdish question will only have grave implications for the national unity of Iraq,” Al-Kafaai concluded.
In the meantime in a thought-provoking op-ed, the Syrian commentator Salama Keila writing in Al-Hayat noted that the “family” of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is willfully destroying the country, but he was optimistic about the future. “The revolution will triumph,” Keila insisted.
“We are now facing a cabal bent on genocide and extermination of the Syrian people. The cabal is aided and abetted by Russia and Iran,” Keila concluded.
The bombs and bluster in Saudi Arabia have become tediously familiar. Economic boom without political reform is a dead end for the citizens of Saudi Arabia. The dominance and vested interests of the all-powerful ruling family Al-Saud who traditionally have sought political legitimacy through alliances with the Wahabist clerical establishment no longer placates the disgruntled masses.
The plausibility of a Saudi Arabian “Spring” was noted in several papers. “Some 50,000 people demonstrated in Oman at the beginning of the Arab Spring. And, some 150,000 in Saudi Arabia also took to the streets to protest against social and political conditions. Saudi Arabia pumped $138 billion to assuage the threat of the spread of the Arab Spring but will petrodollars halt the inevitable? Saudi Arabia only exhibits unconditional flexibility when it comes to its unqualified alliance with the West,” extrapolated Latif Al-Wakil in the pan-Arab London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
The scale of reform the kingdom needs is not possible while despotism persists. It must never be forgotten that Al-Qaeda was founded, financed and nurtured by the US and Saudi Arabia to fight against the Soviet occupying army in Afghanistan, noted a number of Arab pundits.
The most daunting strategic struggle facing Saudi Arabia — not only for the kingdom but for the region as a whole, is whether the Arab Spring will engulf the kingdom.