x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fayyad-Barak talks break Israel's isolation

The Palestinian Authority confirmed reports about a forthcoming meeting between the PA prime minister Salam Fayyad and the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi stated in its editorial.

The Palestinian Authority confirmed reports about a forthcoming meeting between the PA prime minister Salam Fayyad and the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi stated in its editorial. A number of things can be inferred from the statement: "communications" have been uninterrupted between the two sides; issues discussed focus on the Gaza blockade and border crossings; meetings involve top officials from both administrations.

Yet, the PA has repeatedly stressed that direct talks with Israel are categorically suspended due to the latter's determination to continue settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem. "Well, the talks to be held between Mr Fayyad and Ehud Barak fall under the category of direct talks, don't they? Or are the two officials going to speak to each other from behind a screen?" And, are these direct talks the fruit of the US-brokered proximity talks, or are they being held, quite curiously, on a parallel course? "The Netanyahu government has been ostracised by the whole world after the Freedom flotilla massacre, and here is the Palestinian Authority volunteering to start negotiations with it, and, by the same token, breaking its international isolation and helping it to save face."

"Every nation in the Middle East publicly agrees there is no imminent danger of war and they all declare that they don't want it," wrote Abdullah Iskandar, the managing editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

However, they are all preparing for one. The entire region, from Israel to Iran, is witnessing an increased frequency of military manoeuvres. Israel, which considers war "vital", is prepping its troops for a multi-front clash in southern Lebanon, Syria and Iran. For its part, Hizbollah-allied Iran believes that a military confrontation is inevitable so long as the international community does not recognise it as a regional power and grant it the perks that comes with that status.

Southern Lebanon is still governed by UN resolution 1701, which bans military operations on the Lebanese-Israeli border. But the Unifil forces deployed in the area to ensure the implementation of the resolution have themselves been under repeated attacks from residents in recent weeks. Only a couple of days ago two French soldiers have been injured. These skirmishes put the Lebanese government in a dilemma. It has to defend the presence of the international peacekeeping forces while standing by Hizbollah decisions. In view of these developments, UN resolution 1701 seems harder to implement without spawning a multi-partite clash in the process.

In a not so common event in the Palestinian territories, 30 girls from different towns in the West Bank took to the catwalk last week in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. They were showing off colourful outfits made by local designers during a three-hour long fashion show, reported Kifah Zaboun in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat. The models wore a range of nightdresses and vibrant wedding gowns, some of them of Indian and Greek inspiration, but all marked by homespun Palestinian embroidery.

The Palestinian Authority-backed event rebutted the stereotypical view of the Palestinians as a conservative, closed-off people stuck in the throes of occupation, the reporter said. For her part, the PA minister of tourism and monuments, Khulood Da'eebas, said in her keynote address: "This show speaks about our people's faith in a better future, notwithstanding intolerable suffering." The event predictably angered the religious conservatives in the West Bank and Gaza. "This isn't becoming of a people who are under the thumb of occupation and have more than 12,000 prisoners [in Israeli jails]," said the Hamas MP Hamed al Baytawi.

In a comment article for the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej, Saad Mehio argued that political violence, which many seem to think has receded, is still rampant in many regions such as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. The propagation of extremist thought as an alternative to an organised state has been the result of attempts by disgruntled ethnic and religious groups to either seek independence or impress their distinct identity.

Indeed, hardline religious groups in the Islamic world are increasingly questioning their governments' authority. In Europe, democratic values have upgraded the status of the individual from a mere subject to a social actor, the writer said, ushering in the end of civil wars and sectarian violence. Some Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Bangladesh, have taken steps in this direction, and are increasingly witnessing a more stable political system in comparison to other Muslim states.

* Digest compiled by Achraf ElBahi aelbahi@thenational.ae