01/20/2009, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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Conflict in Gaza has highlighted divisions in Arab world

by Paul Dakiki
The prime minister of Qatar speaks of "reconciliation" among Arab countries, but many observers are emphasizing how Hamas now finds itself at a crossroads: whether to return within the Arab "family," or continue being "a weapon in the hands of Tehran."

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "Reconciliation" among Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, on the aid to be given to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, hit by the Israeli attack. The news has been delivered personally by the prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, on Al-Jazeera, the television channel based in Doha.

While the Israeli army continues its withdrawal from Gaza, and another night has gone by peacefully, if the minister of Qatar sees an overcoming of the divisions revealed in all their profundity precisely by events in Gaza, from various directions there is emphasis of the disagreements within the Arab world. And Hamas itself is being asked to learn its lesson and choose which path it will take, that of permanent conflict or that of the search for peace - meaning whether it will follow the direction pointed out by Iran, or by Egypt.

The pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, in an editorial by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of the satellite television station Al-Arabiya, affirms that the Arab front "seems even more divided" than it was during the war in Lebanon in 2006, and the attack by Hezbollah against the Sunni population in Beirut in May of 2008. "The leaders of the Hamas movement- because there is not one single leader that can be addressed- have two choices with regards to their [foreign] relations that will decide the fate of the movement, especially as they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses in confronting" Israel. "Hamas is facing a new history, and has been given another chance to review its position and chose between staying in Iran's camp, or returning to the Arab side.

"Hamas must be aware that they were used by Iran to attack the Arabs in an unprecedented way that surpasses any previous antagonism. Iran has progressed as a result of this, and made advancements on the ground to an extremely dangerous point, which includes the attempt to create chaos in Arab countries opposed to it, and explicitly seeking to destroy Saudi Arabia, and incite the overthrow of the Egyptian regime. Such audacity serves only to unite Arab countries against Hamas. However it is also just and reasonable to say that the door is still open; it is up to the Hamas movement to choose between returning to the Arab family or remaining a weapon in the hands of Iran.

"Hamas is in a good position, and must negotiate with itself with regards to its own relationship with the Arabs, who can only respect Hamas and ensure its political and material rights on Palestinian soil. Generally speaking, we know that Hamas is not a singular organization, despite the similarity of its language and political façade; there is Hamas the hostage to Damascus and Tehran and whose leaders live in hotels, and there is the Gazan Hamas who have paid a high price in order to fulfill the orders of their brothers in Damascus, the results of which were always disastrous. The Gazan Hamas must chose between Tehran or Cairo."

On the divisions among Arabs, the Middle East Times notes in an editorial that if both the Israelis and Hamas claim that they are victorious, "who are the losers? The Arabs, of course. Why? The Arab world comes out of this war far more divided than it has been in decades. Egypt and Syria, the two powerhouses in the Middle East remain as far apart as they have ever been." "And one side has been working overtime trying to convince the rest of the Arab world that they should sever ties with the Jewish state (Syria's view), while Egypt's approach to the conflict is to keep negotiations with Israel going.

"The Arab world continues to show its inability to present a unified front despite the rhetoric paid at the altar of Arab unity. They gather, they meet, they argue, and they issue communiqués, all without any real substance and come out in worse shape than they went in. Would the Arabs have learned from mistakes of the past? Hardly, as they keep committing them again and again and again. War has been tried for over 60 years and without great success. Maybe someone should, as John Lennon used to say, 'give peace a chance'."

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