The seven thousand innocent people who lost their lives in the hijack-crashing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon would, almost certainly, have been alive today if the US had leant an ear to the late King Hussein’s advice.
In 1990-91, he advised the first Bush administration to opt for diplomatic pressure rather than warfare to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. But George Bush I, who had a reputation as a “wimp,” chose war in an effort to convince US voters that he was a man of steel and action. Within hours of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Bush had convinced the Saudi rulers that they were in danger and had begun ferrying US troops and hardware to bases in the kingdom, setting up the resonant resentment amongst Saudi citizens which may have led a handful of them to carry out the attacks in the US.
If Bush had not taken such precipitate action, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might have been persuaded to pull his troops out of Kuwait. But once Bush, with a dramatic media flourish, drew his “line in the sand,” the Iraqi leader could not yield without losing face on the international scene and credibility amongst his own people. The consequences of the first Bush war were both grave and ironic. The conflict devastated Iraq, divided the Arab world and resulted in the deployment for over a decade of US troops in highly sensitive Saudi Arabia. Saddam Hussein’s grip on power was enhanced and George Bush I lost the 1992 presidential election.
At the end of the Gulf War, King Hussein advised the first Bush administration to vigorously pursue the peace process which had been promised to the Arabs who joined the US-led coalition against Iraq.
The administration convened the international peace conference in Madrid, but allowed Israel to dictate the terms of its own and Palestinian participation. Thereafter, Washington permitted the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to derail the peace process, conducting profitless talks with the Arab states and the Palestinians. After his defeat at the polls in the summer of 1992, Shamir admitted that his aim had been draw out the negotiations for 10 years to allow for an accelerated settlement drive in the occupied territories.
David Landau, the editor of the English edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz, said in 1982, after Labour won the general election, that Yitzak Rabin, the peace premier, would not move forward in the peace process unless the US put considerable pressure on him to do so. Landau was right.
King Hussein repeatedly advised the new US President Bill Clinton, who took office in 1993, to actively pursue regional peacemaking. At first, Clinton kept his distance. He only became involved when Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, meeting in secret in Oslo, initialled the first breakthrough accord. Ron Pundak, one of the Israelis involved in these negotiations, told this correspondent recently that the Israeli team conducted these negotiations on the understanding that “permanent status would be based on the 1967 borders.” This meant that if the Oslo process went forward as intended, Israel would have ended its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and a Palestinian state would have emerged at the end of the five, year interim period.
Clinton celebrated the formal signing with a party on the White House lawn but failed to make certain the terms of the Oslo accord were carried out. As a result, the timetable set for the extension of Palestinian self-rule slipped and Israel either attempted to redraft agreed provisions or flatly refused to implement them. Clinton, who had surrounded himself with committed Zionists determined to protect what they saw as “Israel’s interests,” did not exert pressure on Israel until too late. And then it was too little.
Regional resentments built up by the US air campaign against Iraq, the post-war presence of US forces in Arabia and the collapse of the peace process have been sharpened by Israel’s use of US-built F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopter gunships against Palestinians resisting occupation. The images of F-16s banking and bombing apartment blocks in Palestinian towns and helicopter gunships rocketing Palestinian cars driving along roads in civilian neighbourhoods fill ordinary people with fury and despair. This is the second time in a decade that people in this region have watched helplessly while US-made aircraft and weapons strike undefended Arab targets. The nightmares produced by CNN’s graphic representation of US planes zeroing in on civilian targets in Baghdad have returned.
A feeling of helplessness now permeates the Arab world. The men aged between 23-38 who mounted the attack on the glass towers of the World Trade Centre and the thick buff walls of the Pentagon were all too clearly motivated by those images of F-16s swooping in for the kill. Their object was to make citizens of the US feel as helpless in the face of the terrorist threat as Arabs feel. The menace faced by both sides will not be eradicated until there is dialogue between Iraq and the US and justice for the Palestinians.
Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.