Friday, April 08, 2005

Do Historic Handshakes Mean Anything?

Reuters reports that the President of Israel shook hands with the leaders of Syria and Iran at Pope John Paul's funeral. Link.
"The Syrian president sat in the chair behind me ... we exchanged smiles and shook hands," Katsav, who holds a largely ceremonial post as head of state, was quoted as telling the Web site of Israel's Maariv newspaper.

The Iranian-born Katsav also said he spoke at the Vatican funeral in his native Farsi with Khatami about their common city of birth. Iran officially seeks Israel's destruction.

"The president of Iran extended his hand to me, I shook it and told him in Farsi 'may peace be upon you'," Katsav told the Web site.

He said he later shook Assad's hand a second time during the funeral, apparently when guests were urged to demonstrate a gesture of goodwill toward those around them.

"This time it was the Syrian president who held out his hand to me," Katsav was quoted as saying.

Haaretz had a few additional facts to add.
President Moshe Katsav told Channel Two television Friday that his handshakes with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami were a matter of being polite, and had no policy implications. (...)

Katsav said that it was Assad who initiated the handshake, and that he obliged. Syrian television Friday denied the two had shaken hands. (...)

Katsav also shook hands with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

It does not mean that they are friendly, but it is a sign of progress, no matter how small. In the past, leaders of Arab states still at war with Israel and of Iran would not appear in the same room as a high Israeli official, much less extend a hand to be shaken. It is amazing that whoever arranged the seating allowed the presidents of Israel and Syria to be seated so close together. If nothing else, it shows that the heads of Syria and Iran are worried enough about the Bush Doctrine that they want good PR in the West. Unfortunately, it has only reached the point where this kind of gesture is only for the West. They still deny to their own people that the handshakes happened.


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