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The news of the handshake between Prince Turki al-Faisal and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon at the Munich Conference continues to dominate the Arab media and as a result has become a game of political football on the field of opportunism. This news has also given impetus to the process of “news laundering” which is an issue that I previously devoted an article to (28/1/2009).

First of all I must say that I completely agree with what my colleague Dawoud al Sharian of the al-Hayat newspaper and my Asharq Al-Awsat colleague Abdul Rahman al-Rashed wrote about this incident, which is that the controversy surrounding this handshake has become [political] outbidding that we have created for ourselves in order to preoccupy ourselves with this and outbid one another. Therefore rather than actually boycotting Israel and internationally embarrassing it, we are now boycotting ourselves due to the hesitation surrounding the issue of attending international forums and conferences for fear of a casual handshake with an Israeli, or a snapshot captured by the cameras of an Arab official inadvertently standing next to an Israeli official at a reception or on a stage.

Since we are facing a crisis of confidence that we in fact created for ourselves, this handshake has become a “boogeyman” that is haunting us and the scene for [political] outbidding from friends and foes alike. The funny thing here is that as soon as the media began to publish the story of the handshake between Prince Turki and Ayalon, the Iranian news laundering process got underway via its allies in the region and others. What surprised me the most was an e-mail received by our newspaper from the official Syrian spokesman and head of the media department of the Syrian embassy in London in which he promoted the Israeli Haaretz newspaper story on this handshake that took place in Munich, and it was as if this Syrian official has become the London correspondent for the Israeli Haaretz newspaper!

The issue does not stop here with regards to [political] outbidding, for Selim al-Hoss recorded his objection to this handshake, while at the same time he expressed his respect and “admiration” of the Turkish position towards Israel, and the questions that must be asked here are; is al-Hoss unaware, for example, of the existence of military agreements between Turkey and Israel? And what is al-Hoss’s opinion regarding the Syrian request that Turkey serve as its intermediary to the Israelis?

If this is true this is evidence of Arab [political] outbidding, as well as of cracks in Arab self-confidence. Is what is required from the Arabs, [political] isolation and the boycott of every international conference or forum due to the presence of Israel? If this is the case, why don’t the Arabs boycott UN meetings and announce their withdrawal from the UN organization?

This is one side [of the issue], as for the media campaign by the Iranians or their allies in the region, it is sufficient to ask them where they were with regards to Esfandiar Mashaei, who is an in-law of President Ahmadinejad and who in July 2008 said “Iran is a friend of the people in the United States and Israel.” Where were they on the day that Ahmadinejad defiantly defended his in-law, who did not find himself in a position of shaking [an Israeli] hand, but went much further than this in his statement.

Therefore a handshake is not important, what is more important is one’s position [towards Israel] and as Prince Turki al-Faisal told the al-Watan newspaper, the big difference is “if I regretted who I shook hands with in my professional life and I carried this regret [with me] then I would die in grief.” And the Prince’s statement may unfortunately also apply to some Arabs whose hands he has shaken.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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