Fuss over a handshake

WE CAN really do without this fuss about a handshake that wasn’t. Israel’s President Moshe Katsav with a triumphant glee has gone to town how he shook hands with President Bashar Al Assad of Syria and President Mohammed Khatami of Iran on Friday. The unexpected encounter took place at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome.

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Published: Sun 10 Apr 2005, 10:29 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:27 PM

However, what has followed the drama on Friday is equally interesting. Within hours of Israeli Radio broadcasting the report of ‘strange’ encounter in Rome, a red faced Khatami issued a rejoinder strongly denying meeting or shaking hands with the Israeli president. The rejoinder must have reminded many in Europe about a similar incident some months ago when an embarrassed Jack Straw of Britain had denied shaking hands with President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

In total contrast with Khatami, president Assad has confirmed the handshake with the Israeli leader. We believe the Syrian leader has demonstrated rare political maturity by standing by his actions. This is hardly surprising though considering the fact Syria has repeatedly said it wants unconditional peace with Israel.

Frankly speaking, the media should stop reading too much in these harmless encounters. What’s wrong if leaders, even if they happen to be sworn enemies, exchanging greetings or shaking hands like civilised men? You don’t have to share someone’s worldview or political/ideological position to greet him. Can’t good neighbours say ‘hi’ to each other without having to explain themselves? Besides, what’s so astonishing or earthshaking about a handshake when we are talking diplomatic ties with Israel?

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