Europe, America and the Middle East

The Palestinian vision of peace has been recently eloquently expounded on a New York Times op-ed signed by Yasir Arafat himself. For the majority of American public, there seems to be a need to better understanding what is exactly going on in the Middle East. The September 11 tragic events have made the Americans ostensibly more sensitive to that region, whence the urgency to understand what the struggle is about. To be sure, the question is not just about great financial interests and oil pumping, but it represents also an important concern to the democracy, the human rights and the national self-determination for peoples. All of these themes are, as we all know, dear to the Western states, which have conduced wars in the Gulf and in the Balkans around them. Lately, the USA was even forced to wage war in Afghanistan in order, it was claimed, to defend these values against the terrorist threat. Yet, in one single place, the U.S. and its European allies have been quite powerless: in regard of the Israeli-Arab conflict! Were they unable to know who exactly is the oppressor and who is the victim? Let’s begin by the first concerned:

For Arafat, the issue is as clear as the problem: ” a viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

So, what do the Israelis want more?

Some years ago, such approach was merely unthinkable. Who would ever imagine that the PLO could some day recognize to the Israelis a right of sovereignty on those lands from which the Palestinians have been expelled in the wake of 1948’s war? The Palestinian leaders who would express such views would be treated as traitors by their compatriots. Perhaps would they even be exposed to violent death. It happened. We will never know who were the killers, and it is also superfluous to mention the names of their victims. The point is that terrorism is blind. Whether it is Arab or Israeli does not matter anymore since it is still the violent expression of the vicious circle wherein all the parties concerned are being locked up. For Arafat, ” terrorism is simply the symptom, not the disease.” And the disease is certainly the foreign occupation his people is “the only people in the world” still undergoing.

How could the USA, Europe, and the civilized world tolerate this?

In the same op-ed, Arafat underlined the change that occurred in the PLO, without which it was merely impossible to imagine any peace process.

” In 1988″, he said ” the Palestine National Council adopted a historic resolution calling for the implementation of applicable United Nations resolutions, particularly, Resolutions 242 and 338.” To understand the importance of the change, we should recall that the PLO and the majority of the Arab states as well have so far rejected the Israeli-Egyptian Camp David accords including an annex about Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank. What actually happened afterwards would sound much amazing particularly in that worked up region, because it reversed the whole rejection’s process and at last embraced the Camp David notions.

Arafat summed it up in the following sentence: ” The Palestinians recognized Israel’s right to exist on 78 percent of historical Palestine with the understanding that we would be allowed to live in freedom on the remaining 22 percent, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.”

The point is that while this important shift occurred in the PLO, almost nothing of the same kind happened in the Israeli establishment. Better still: the American administration always very sensitive to the Israeli claims adopted their official viewpoint to the extent of shocking the European allies. When Mr. Bush was expressing his “disappointment” at the perspective of the “irrelevant” behavior of the besieged Arafat é still hijacked in his compound under the Israeli menace-, the foreign ministers of the European Union affirmed their full support to the Chairman of the PA.

Israel says Arafat is a terrorist. He is behind the violence. His Dec. 16 truce declaration was a sham, intended to deflect international pressure and buy time for his fighters to regroup and rearm. A 50-ton Iranian weapons shipment intercepted en route to the Gaza strip recently is proof of Arafat’s evil intentions!

If the Israelis could prove the existence of a connection between Arafat and the Mullahs of Tehran, he is done. In some American media, commentators are already debating about his succession. In the French press, they said Sharon has begun his fourth official visit to Washington with the idea of burying Arafat. The advisers of the latter say Bush sounds as if he had already bought whatever the Israelis would sell him out! Talking to ABC television, Dick Cheney said: ” We’ve just seen evidence that he was involved in this Karine A shipment”. He was referring to the freighter seized in the international waters of the Red Sea on Jan. 3. ” He has been implicated now in an operation that puts him working with a terrorist organization, Hizbullah, and Iran, a state that’s devoted to torpedoing the peace process”, the U.S. Vice President added.

According to the Saudi cyber magazine “Elaph”, the Bush administration is convinced that Arafat used Imad Mughniya as his middleman in the weapons deal.

Mughniya is one of the most wanted men on the black lists of the FBI and the CIA, for his alleged responsibility in some operations that costed hundreds of lives to the USA, particularly the 1983 bombing of the marines’ barracks in Lebanon. It is said also that prior to his commitment with Hizbullah, Mughniyah had served for a while as personal bodyguard to Yasir Arafat.

“Elaph” reports that when Mr. Bush was briefed about Mughniyah’s connection to the arms shipment and to Arafat, he asked: who is Mughniyah? He was said that he is a terrorist who took part in hijacking and killing Americans. Then the President furiously hit the table with his fist and shouted: ” How could Arafat, the son of é do that? How could he deal with that kind of people who killed Americans, and how could we possibly deal with him now?”

The Saudi magazine reported that when a moderate Arab state tried to convince the Bush administration of the inaccuracy of its information about Arafat’s involvement, Washington sent them audio records and satellite snapshots proving the contrary. (: Elaph.Jan.29)

But if such evidence is available, why the Americans did not share it with their European allies?

No later than February 6, Mr. Hubert Védrine, French foreign minister told France Inter radio: ” Europeans are unanimous in not supporting the Middle East policy of the White House”. And he added: ” We think it is a mistake to blindly accept the policy of pure repression conducted by Ariel Sharon”.

The Europeans, it is known, insist on stopping the process of unlegitimizing the Palestinian Authority, started by Sharon and endorsed by the American administration. The question of Jerusalem is also disturbing. The Quai d’Orsay (French foreign ministry) issued recently a declaration saying:” ensuring the security of the Israeli population is a legitimate objective, but sealing off places has already been shown for months now to exacerbate rather than resolve the conflict. Given that context, the plan to isolate Jerusalem from the Palestinian Territories is particularly disturbing. France’s position, unchanged, on the question of Jerusalem is that its status must not be settled unilaterally.”

The point is that this is not just a French sniping. In Europe, such stances are not rare. Recently, the Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh described the United States’ siding with Israel as “extremely dangerous”, and only serves to escalate the tension. She expressed concern regarding the severing of ties between the U.S. and the PA and described Washington statements that link between Yasir Arafat and terrorism as “stupid”.

Anna Lindh added: ” I believe that such statements lack objectivity and are stupid; it is a very dangerous policy that aims to reward the violence of Sharon in the Middle East.”

Spanish foreign minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said: ” We including Israel, all need the Palestinian Authority and its elected President Yasir Arafat as a partner to root out terrorism and achieve peace.”

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.