In a rare occurrence, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon shook the hand of Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal during the annual security conference in Munich on Saturday. The handshake was preceded by the prince's attempts at avoiding participation in a panel alongside Ayalon, a consequent uproar and a sharp American condemnation of the Saudi behavior.
However, when Ayalon arrived at the conference on Friday, he discovered that the panel in which he was set to participate had been split into two separate panels. The first panel was to include the Saudi prince and other Saudi officials, as well as officials from Egypt and Turkey, followed by a separate panel to include himself, Lieberman and the American and Russia representatives.
According to Israeli diplomats, the split was a Saudi request. Prince al-Faisal refused to sit on the same stage as Ayalon and the organizers heeded his request and split the panel. Ayalon, who was surprised by the move, addressed the incident at the very start of the panel, saying that "this is micro cosmos of the Middle East conflict. The Arabs refuse to sit with us, recognize us or talk to us."
The Saudi prince, who was sitting in the audience at the time, rose from his seat and rushed to deny the allegation that he had requested the split. Ayalon quickly responded "if that is so, come and shake my hand." The prince refused to get on the stage, but Ayalon did not lose his stride, announcing that he would be willing to get off the stage. He then walked toward the prince and shook his hand. "Israel is committed to peace," he told the prince.
I'm constantly amazed at how even a handshake can be seen as a grave concession by Israel's neighbors.