Blue-and-white Listed

The Foreign Ministry's Hebrew Internet site has served over the past week as a flash point for a battle between Arab pundits. That is because during the war in Gaza, articles highly critical of Hamas by prominent intellectuals and journalists from the Arab press were published there without their permission. Among them are the well-known columnists Turki al-Hamad, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, Nidal Noaisah and Tarek al-Hamid.

Radical Islamic Internet sites, some controlled by Arab governments, have called them "Zionist journalists in the service of Israel."

"The publication of these articles on the Israeli Foreign Ministry site did great damage to these writers and hurt the legitimacy they enjoyed among a large readership," Fuad Ibrahim, a researcher of political Islam, said in a newspaper interview.

However, Khalil Haider, a columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan, wrote that he believes the publication of the "list of shame" of journalists, whose articles were published on the Israeli Web site - including his own - shows "the struggle of the ideological streams among the Arabs, and is part of the terror campaign against the liberal stream in the Arab world by its description of [them] as an agent of Israel and the writers in question as 'hired pens.'"

It is difficult not to understand the anger of these writers who, instead of serving as an authentic voice of courageous and independent criticism, find themselves unintentionally serving Israeli propaganda on an official Israeli site.

But it seems that even this anger and the fear of the erosion of their position does not prevent at least some of them from fighting back at their detractors. This week the Syrian Nidal Noaisah published a sharply worded and witty piece on the Saudi-owned Internet site Ilaf, in which he bitterly took to task both Israel and his critics.

"If there is such a list [of writers], it is something for which credit must be given to the 'country of the barbaric attack' and not to its denigration, since behind it stands something positive, which is interest in the writers and their opinions. However, it seems that such an interest is very far from the uniforms and the mustaches of their murderous generals. If they give no weight to a thought or opinion or any kind of value of nobility or beauty... I do not think that this article or that opinion of 'poor, simple' writers like ourselves are of such great interest to them. But if this is really the case, I must thank the Israeli Foreign Ministry publicly, and I welcome this noble and objective stand, although we are all completely outside the Zionist project, as long as they are interested in our opinions and our writings and disseminate our ideas. This is in contrast to our offices of information and 'national' forums, which push us aside, darken us and condemn us to a kind of ideological extinction. Accordingly, I would ask the foreign ministries of Israel, America, Somalia Ethiopia, Bengal and Sri Lanka to take more of an interest in our opinions and publish them as much as possible, while our own people are not very interested in them. I also thank everyone who published our names on this blacklist, and raised us to the level of Arab ambassadors, we who would not dream in our own homeland of winning the position of assistant doorman."

The PA according to Mahmoud Abbas

In the heat of the debate over the tahadiyeh and the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, one of the most important clauses Egypt insisted on was the establishment of a dialogue of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, to prevent the internal Palestinian struggle from breaking out again and dragging Egypt once more to the Gaza front. According to one report from Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak insists that the opening of the Rafah crossing be contingent on the renewal of dialogue among the Palestinian factions.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has still not revealed why he was so anxious to postpone his trip to Europe last week and hurry instead to Egypt. But it seems that it also involves this dialogue and the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government.

At the end of the week, when Abbas went to London, he revealed at least some of his thoughts on such a government.

"I do not require Hamas' recognition of Israel, the conditions of the Quartet, the road map or even international decisions," he said. "All this is not required of Hamas as a movement, but it must distinguish between its position as an organization and its place in government."

Abbas used an interesting example to explain the difference between a party or a movement and government, between ideology and practice.

"The Ba'ath party in Syria, in one of its basic slogans, calls for Arab unity, liberty and socialism, while the Syrian government speaks of a Syrian nation-state within geographical boundaries and not of a greater Arab nation. That is a government that represents the people," he said.

Whether he meant this cynically or whether he could not find a better example, Abbas was clearly alluding to the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government on condition that its leader, "can cross the bridge between Palestine and Jordan and move from the West Bank to Gaza." That is, one on which Israel will not impose sanctions and limitations.

The question now is whether Israel will persist in its attitude of opposition to a Palestinian unity government and will repeat its mistake of 2006, or whether this time there is a chance for such a government to be established even if some of its members do not recognize Israel.

The solution is not only in Israel's hands. Europe might adopt a new formula that recognizes Hamas, and Washington, which is showing greater openness to Iran and Syria, might "reexamine" its policy toward the group.