Israel, The West, and The Arabs

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You do not need to be fluent in arabic or in hebrew these days to know that the Middle East is thousands of miles away from the late peace process. Peace, precisely, is no longer alive even in the official and pro governmental arabic newspapers. Take a look at any arabic news bulletin, and you will see to what extent of anger, distrust, disgust and disappointment, a single man – consequently, Ariel Sharon – could boost the Arabs and unify them. The latter are not keen though to agreeing on any regional or international topic, so important are the contradictions dividing them since the Gulf war. But since Sharon’s election as Prime Minister, it sounds as if the Arabs retrieved the taste of fighting and resisting. Beyond their divisions, a lot of their analysts and observers see not only Israel as embodying all the evil, but also those who are held responsible for the Israeli military and hi-tech sound progress and the crumbling disappointing state of twenty two Arab governments, detaining oil, gas, and other richness, but unable to match Israel on this ground: The Western States!

Nothing could be more significant to the mindful observer perhaps than to take two newspapers as different as the Saudi Arryadh and the Iraqi Al Thawra, for instance, and to compare what their columnists are writing about the Israeli-Arab conflict. Indeed, the Western public opinion, convinced that the Saudis are the “allies” and the Iraqis the “enemies”, is far from imagining that on some subjects – such as the current Israeli policy precisely- both Saudis and Iraqis forget their dramatic contrast and join in to condemn what is going on on the hands of Sharon and his army, and especially to accuse the West – America in first rank- for its indifference to the Palestinian pains. The serious Al Ahram weekly – one of the most influent paper not only in Egypt but also in the Middle East- headlined one of its latest stories ” Sharon’s Guerilla War”, while reporting that “faced with such inaction, the absolute conviction of the Palestinian leadership is that it is now no longer a question of if Sharon will deliver his crushing blow against them but when ” . The no less influent Lebanese Annahar, was wondering whether the Israeli Prime Minister did not intend to get some sort of green light from his Western interlocutors on his last visit to Berlin and Paris, in order to launch an offensive! Furthermore, these rumors of war are not a pure fantasy of the columnists in the Arab world, for they are dispatched also by the official news agencies. And it is not only the journalists who are speculating: The Syrian President Bachar Al Assad declared to the German Der Spiegel before a visit to Berlin scheduled for Tuesday July 10, that Sharon is actually planning for a war, and he added that Syria is ready to face any belligerence. The interview was published on the same day Mr. William Burns ended his visit to Damascus! It was just a coincidence, to be sure. Yet, the paradox makes sense! Peace is never so badly needed than when people feel in their flesh and their proprieties that the conflict has gone that far; and this is exactly the way they feel it in the Middle East. But there is no peace looming at the horizon!

The anger about the Western duplicity has reached alarming heights: it is not the ordinary street man who is turning his own resentment against the West, but the officials. The peace envoys are often deemed to be sympathizing with Israel. That was exactly the image sticking to Mr. Denis Ross, who, unaware of it perhaps wrote recently in the Washington Post calling for creating a structure of accountability, the lack of which was, in his eyes, the real cause of Mr. Clinton failure to implement peace. Yet, the question remains: What is the difference between this proposition and what the Palestinians were suggesting about the international observers? At the time, some Arabs did not trust Mr. Ross; but they have to deal with him . Today, they would wonder why did he fail to make any step in that direction when he was in post and could really make things happen, whereas he is now “playing ” the impartial adviser? Why the American leaders have a discourse when they are in post and another when they are off ? As to Mr. Colin Powell, he is even deemed to push that ” illogical logic” to its utmost extremity. Palestinian Authority Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abderrahman is reported to have said: “Mr. Powell played a strange role. When he met with us he spoke one language and when he met with the Israelis he spoke another. And when he left the region he spoke a third language”!!! This at least to show that the Palestinians have not lost their sense of humor.

We must not think however that the Arab anger is exclusively against the USA. For although the Europeans pretend to more a balanced position as regards the Mideast conflict, they are no less criticized. Their responsibility migh even be heavier than the American. The British, for instance, are still reminded that they were the very cause of the Palestinian tragedy since the day they issued the famous Balfour promise. As to the French, it is well known that without their assistance, the Israelis would not have progressed in the nuclear technology to the level they have reached. So, their duplicity in all what concerns this question is established since a long time. And if they shifted their positions to be more adaptable and flexible, is it out of sympathy for the Arabs, or out of guilt, if not because of their interests? Anyway, it is not haphazard that the famous Venice declaration which recognized the PLO as the main representative of the Palestinian people and appealed for the execution of the UN decisions about Israel withdrawal from the 1967’s occupied territories, occurred just after the great shock of the oil embargo in 1973. For the Arabs, that was a great step forward . Yet,the Europeans did never let down Israel, whatever the latter or the Arabs may think. The facts are speaking for themselves.

Take France as an example. There is a widespread idea about the French as siding with the Arabs! The Israelis particularly believe it, for they see in France the “protector” of Bachar Al Assad, as a columnist wrote recently in an Israeli newspaper! Moreover, albeit they do not say it, the Israelis are quite embarrassed by what they figure out to be a French interventionism in their “backyard”: Lebanon and Syria. But especially Lebanon, where Sharon had been able once to appoint himself the president of the republic after the 1982 invasion: Bechir Gemayel, who was killed a few days after his “election” ! Nonetheless, the French have never considered serious the mere thought that they could be bypassed by Israel in an area they traditionally deem as theirs. For them, the rules inherited since the early post colonization period are still holding. Whether in Africa or in the Middle East, the French influence has never been eliminated: the scandal of ELF’s adventures revealed in successive judiciary and press investigations, prove it. A personage like David de Rotschild, the well known businessman, heir of a wealthy French Jewish family, declared lately to an Israeli newspaper that ” France has its constraints and obligations. Sometimes as a citizen I would agree with what they do and sometimes as a Jew I might not.” Then pursuing his analyze of the French Israeli relationship, Rotschild said that since there is a perception in the West that the Palestinians are weak and the Israelis strong, ” it is for the strong one to find solutions”. In his view, this acknowledgment makes the Jews of Europe suffering because Israel is part of their lives. Nevertheless, he could envision a scenario where the balance of opinion in Europe would shift in Israel’s favor: ” If there is a perception- he says- that the Palestinian leaders are not for the moment showing signs that they want peace, and there is a spreading out of regional hostilities which leads to a major confrontation here, you may then see a complete swing towards supporting Israel”. Yet, what Rotschild missed in his analyze concerns the criterion upon which the Europeans repose their evaluation of the peaceful or unpeaceful behavior. For if we take the two present leaders in confrontation: Sharon and Arafat, for instance, who is entitled to say who among them is really working for peace ? Or let’s put it this way: what is the basis of such an appreciation in the absence of what Mr. Denis Ross calls a “structure of accountability”, and what the Palestinians label as “international observers”?

But let’s not miss the point. The above declaration of Mr. Rotschild was made in May of this year in Jerusalem, during the Palestinian uprising, when the French Jewish businessman was visiting, as part of a “solidarity mission “of 20 French business leaders, as it was reported. Of course, it is useless to naively wonder :solidarity with whom? With those Mr. Rotschild called “the weak”? No, precisely. It was well “the strong” who needed solidarity!!! But who can blame the Jews of Europe for showing sympathy with General Ariel Sharon? After all, whatever his past or his future or his present, he has been elected by his people. And the French – and the other Europeans- who received him lately with an honor guard at the airport, an official dinner, and presidential accompaniment to the limousine on the red carpet, have no better explanation to give to those who criticized them than to show them what Mr. Bush has just done!

Yet, well before these honors, the French who never missed an occasion to object about the American “shameless” involvement in Israel’s arming and logistic assistance – without which the F16 fighters could hardly have bombed the PA headquarters in Gaza!-,have been secretly working for a well rewarding bargain with the Israelis. The “solidarity” mission that involved Mr. Rotschild aimed – among other things- at making a deal worth between $ 40 and $50 million and involving the joint production of the next generation UAV by European consortium EADS and IAI. France had actually selected Israel Aircraft Industries’ “Eagle-1” drone over the General Atomics “Predator”.

French Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Jacques Huntzinger, pointed out that “French Israeli ties are marked by a new dynamism independent of the ups and downs of Middle East politics”.

A “new dynamism” that has been translated in “cash” terms : according to some reports the French Defense Ministry’s procurement department will purchase the Eagle-1 airframe from IAI. The electronics and payload will be assembled by EADS, a consortium made up of Aerospatiale Matra and Dassault. The Eagle-1 is the European name for the “Heron”, which was tested over Lebanon last year and actually broke an endurance record of 51 hours in the air.

The point is that the deal was made in full Palestinian uprising. A coincidence that would have been of no great importance in other circumstances; but at such hard times for the Palestinians, it could not go unnoticed. Yet, this is the Raison d’ Etat, to be sure.

These are a few examples about how the Westerners deal with the crisis and how the Arabs perceive it. There are many others, indeed. Some positions However signalize the ambiguity of the situation and the misunderstanding it causes while others show a veritable duplicity. How can one omit for instance the recent revelations about Halliburton Co. dealings with Iraq which are said to be greater than what Mr. Cheney – former chairman- acknowledged? And in which category can we really class them: misunderstanding, ambiguity of the situation, or duplicity? But this is perhaps a different register? No matter! There is still a lot to say about related topics.

Here is another example: ” There’s a conflict between what Arafat wants to be and what he wants to do”, said a senior State Department lately to Los Angeles Times(:July 8), and he added: ” He wants to be defender of the Arab cause, particularly in defending Jerusalem, but he also wants to be the founder of a Palestinian state, which may entail relinquishing long- cherished Arab goals.”

But why should the Palestinian state be denied the right to Jerusalem? And where is the contradiction between defending the “Arab cause” – defined as Jerusalem- and defending the right to a state? Are we here facing a position based on misunderstanding or on duplicity

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

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