x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Syria sends tough message to Abbas

Two heavy blows for Mahmoud Abbas, intractible Israelis may block Mitchell, what Iran dreads, and Iraqi alliances.

The pan-Arab daily Al Quds al Arabi said in its main leader that the Syrian government has dealt two heavy blows to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. The first came with the release of a statement in which Damascus voiced its "astonishment" that the Palestinian Authority had postponed voting on the UN report on the Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip. The second blow took the shape of a Syrian "excuse" not to receive Mr Abbas yesterday as scheduled.

Syria considered the government in Ramallah to be the representative of the Palestinian people and avoided for a long time severing what remained of its ties with the Palestinian Authority, despite its strong disapproval of Mr Abbas's cabinet policies. This new Syrian attitude calls to mind vivid memories of past Syrian regimes when Damascus acted as the leader of the Arab rejectionist front, refusing any form of surrender to Israel's agenda in the Middle East.

Syria is home to Palestinian resistance factions, and it is starting to feel that its no-comment policy regarding Mr Abbas' exaggerated concessions to both the Israelis and the Americans is backfiring, especially since Mr Abbas has repeatedly visited Damascus to convey the impression that his policies are supported by Syria.

George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, is expected to come back to the region today to resume his mediation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, though his efforts are likely to come to nil if the Israeli position remains intractable, wrote Saleh al Qallab in the Kuwaiti daily Al Jarida. The new factor in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has deferred this week the vote on the now-famous "Goldstone report" accusing both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the Israeli attack on Gaza last winter. Leaked reports have it that the US administration pushed the Palestinian Authority to block the vote in order to put pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet to face up to the challenges of the peace process, especially the freeze of Israeli settlements.

"What is really annoying is that other Palestinian 'brothers'," the columnist wrote in reference to Hamas, "did not wait to know the actual facts that led to the postponement." Instead, they have been quick to employ the delay as an opportunity for political payback, charging the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas with all sorts of accusations and equating the decision to a sell-out of the Palestinian cause. They were forced to wait anyway, for the US, Russia and the EU all pressed for the deferment.

There will be some time before those who have speculated that the US will wage war on Iran finally understand that they were in the wrong, as many signs point rather to a historic reconciliation between the two states, commented Satei Noureddine in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

But, what exactly happened during the visit of the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to Washington last week? Whatever the answer, no one buys the official story which says that Mr Mottaki went to the US capital to meet two high-ranking officials at the Foreign Relations Council, a reputable research centre close to the US president Barack Obama. Over the last week, Iran has moved from declaring the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility to voicing its readiness to hand over its low-enriched uranium to any country willing to develop it into a highly-enriched phase, so that Iran can use it for scientific research. Still, it was not the threat of war that led Iran to such a radical change of heart. If Iran dreaded anything, it was a tightened embargo. Further sanctions on the Iranian oil sector would paralyse the country's economy and usher in a new crisis that the country's fragile state, after the last presidential elections, would not be able to sustain.

The political configuration in Iraq is likely to remain unchanged despite the significant number of political coalitions and blocs currently being formed in the run-up to the forthcoming general elections in January, said Sameer Saeed, a columnist at the Emirati daily Al Khaleej.

"So many of these political entities have been created over the past few days that their accurate number is hard to pin down, making the political scene in the country practically chaotic." Among the most prominent of these formations are the Iraqi National Coalition and the State of Law Coalition, but neither has brought forth any new developments yet. For instance, the current prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, who chairs the Islamic Dawa Party, has gathered some 40 political, tribal and regional entities that were weak enough for him to take the lead under the State of Law Coalition. Another 30 groups are still considering joining Mr al Maliki's cluster.

All this political ferment in the country is not necessarily symptomatic of change. Unless the next elections yield a surprise breakthrough paving the way for an organised post-occupation Iraq, these "politicians under occupation" will keep fooling the Iraqi people with fake nationalistic slogans. * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi aelbahi@thenational.ae