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Robert Fisk: Posturing and laughter as victims rot

Mahmoud Abbas stepped further into humiliation by saying the only option for Arabs isto make peace with Israel

The front page of the Beirut daily As-Safir said it all yesterday. Across the top was a terrible photograph of the bloated body of a Palestinian man newly discovered in the ruins of his home while two male members of his family shrieked and roared their grief. Below, at half the size, was a photograph from Israel of Western leaders joking with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister. Olmert was roaring with laughter. Silvio Berlusconi, arms on the back of Olmert's shoulders, was also joshing and roaring – with laughter, not grief – and on Olmert's right was Nicolas Sarkozy of France wearing his stupidest of smiles. Only Chancellor Merkel appeared to understand the moral collapse. No smiles from Germany.

Europe laughs while Palestinians mourn their dead. No wonder that in the streets of Beirut, shops were doing a flourishing trade in Palestinian scarves and flags. Even some of Palestine's most serious enemies in Lebanon wore the Palestinian keffiyeh in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Over and over again, Al-Jazeera television strapped headlines on to their news reports of Palestinians carrying the decomposing corpses of their dead: "More than 1,300 dead in Gaza, 400 of them women and children – Israeli dead in the war 13, three of them civilians." That, too, said it all.

All day, the Arabs also had to endure watching their own leaders primping and posing in front of the cameras at the Arab summit in Kuwait, where the kings and presidents who claim to rule them also smiled and shook hands and tried to pretend that they were unified behind a Palestinian people who have been sorely betrayed. Even Mahmoud Abbas was there, the powerless, impotent leader of "Palestine" – where is that precisely, one had to ask? – trying to suck some importance from the coat-tails and robes of his betters.

Slipping and sliding on the corpses of Gaza, these assembled supreme beings should perhaps be pitied. What else could they do? Saudi King Abdullah announced £750,000 to rebuild Gaza; but how many times have the Arabs and the Europeans been throwing money at Gaza only to see it torn to shreds by incoming shell-fire?

It has to be said that the two cowled Hamas gunmen who announced that they had won a "victory" in the ruins of Gaza were only fractionally less hypocritical. Still they had not understood that they were not the Hizbollah of Lebanon. Gaza was no longer Beirut. Now, it seemed, Gaza was Stalingrad. But whose uniforms did Hamas think they were wearing: German or Soviet?

"Israel has to understand," the good king said – as if the Israelis were listening – "that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open and that the Arab initiative (for Arab recognition in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders of Israel) that is on the table today will not stay on the table." He knew that "an eye for an eye ... did not say an eye for the eyes of a whole city". But how many times – how many bodies have to be pulled from the ruins – before the Saudis realise that time has run out?

The Israelis briskly dismissed land for peace in 2002 but yesterday they suddenly showed their interest again. "We continue to be willing to negotiate with all our neighbours on the basis of that initiative," the Israeli government spokesmen said – as if his own country's original rejection had never been thrown at the Arabs.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, of course, dismissed the whole initiative in Qatar last week as dead, insisting that Israel be declared a "terrorist entity". But Mahmoud Abbas stepped further into humiliation yesterday by announcing that the "only option" for Arabs was to make peace with Israel. It was Arab "shortcomings" that led to the failure of the 2002 Arab initiative. Not Israel's rejection, mark you. No, it was all the fault of the Arabs. And this from the leader of "Palestine".

No wonder America's man in Egypt – a certain Hosni Mubarak – repeated the tired old slogan that "peace in the Middle East is an imperative that cannot be delayed". And then the Emir of Kuwait invited Bashar and Hosni and King Abdullah of Jordan and the other King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to have lunch together – the menu was not disclosed – to end their feuding.

Al-Jazeera showed the ever-more putrid bodies being tugged from beneath cross-beams and crushed concrete as these mighty potentates debated their little disputes. There was really no adequate comment for this charade.