When rancour sours

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Since the suicide hijack attacks that struck New York and Washington on 11 September, the US has been engaged in a massive political and military buildup in preparation for its retaliation against Bin Laden, whom it alleges is responsible for the attacks, and the Taliban government, accused of sheltering the Saudi millionaire and his Al-Qa’ida organisation.

Throughout this period of buildup Egypt, along with other countries of the Arab world and the international community, has urged a more prudent and comprehensive approach that would address the root causes of terrorism. It also pleaded against compounding the sufferings of the Afghan people and cautioned against targeting an Arab or Islamic country in response to the attacks on the US.

Egypt, itself a victim of terrorist violence, has long been in the vanguard of the international drive to fight terrorism. Since the mid 1980s President Mubarak has appealed to the international community to intensify its efforts to uproot terrorism in a rational way. Therefore, while Egypt sympathises with the US desire to bring to justice the perpetrators of the appalling crime in the US, it has held that US action in this regard must conform to the principles of international law and take place within the framework of a coordinated and ongoing international drive. It has further urged that any military action should be limited in scope and that the US should not use the bombings of the WTC and the Pentagon as a pretext for settling long-standing scores with adversaries who had no connection to the suicide hijacks.

Above all, it is Egypt’s belief that the events of 11 September should give pause to contemplate the grave inequities in the world, many of which have been perpetuated, if not exacerbated, by US foreign policy, towards the Middle East in particular. Washington’s flagrantly pro-Israeli bias is the most blatant example of such provocation. With US military and economic might behind it, Israel has been able to sustain its occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories, to continue to deprive the Palestinians of their legitimate rights and to perpetrate an endless litany of injustices against the Palestinian people.

The US administration’s Middle East policies have inflamed anti-American sympathies in the Arab and Islamic world. Its arrogance and one-sidedness on such issues as arms control, environment, trade and globalisation have aroused similar antipathies throughout the third world as well as the in the West itself.

There is no intrinsic aversion to the US or Western values in Arab or Muslim societies, despite what is sometimes put about in the more tendentious American media. That many of these societies have adopted Western models for modernisation and development and have strong cultural relations with Western countries should put paid to such nonsense. Rather, it is the unfathomable hubris with which the US has persisted in policies that defy international opinion and values that engenders the levels of frustration and rancour that can breed the madness that was unleashed against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Such insane violence, it must be stressed, serves no cause. The Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim peoples in general resent their name being used as a cover to perpetrate crimes that have only brought more damage to their causes — crimes, moreover, that claimed Arab and Muslim lives among the other innocent victims. Yet this is precisely what Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and others have done in their attempt to turn an anti-US climate to the advantage of their personal ambitions or fanatical beliefs.

Because the situation is so readily exploitable by madmen any long-term remedy to terrorism must extend beyond military and economic measures to address the policies that breed such rancour. In which respect, the volatile Middle East is the foremost case in point. By adopting a more equitable stance, recognising the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process in accordance with its original guiding principles, the US would do much to counter anti-American sentiments. It would be demonstrating its responsiveness to the needs of the region and its commitment to the tenets of international and humanitarian law. Ultimately, this is the best safeguard of US interests and security.

Fortunately, there have been signs of a growing awareness of this reality. Several days ago, President Bush declared that the creation of an independent Palestinian state had always been a fundamental part of Washington’s thinking. Although there is an element of truth to the claim that Bush was seeking to placate Arab opinion as the US stepped up its drive to rally support for its campaign against the Taliban, such statements reflect a level of commitment that is not easily retractable.

US sources have also said that the National Security Council has devised a comprehensive peace initiative that includes US recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Secretary of State Colin Powell would have announced it in the next UN General Assembly meeting had not the events of 11 September intervened.

The EU has long supported the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, but from within that bloc, too, there have been recent encouraging developments. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently that peace between the Palestinians and Israelis must be founded on the principle of two independent states. His foreign secretary Jack Straw added that the Palestinian people, whose sufferings have fueled terrorist anger, deserve a state.

However, as the US and Europe come around to the international consensus that lasting peace in the Middle East can only be realised when the Palestinians are granted their natural right to self-determination within a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital, Ariel Sharon remains the primary impediment to peace efforts. The extremist Likud leader has no inclination to permit a Palestinian state to come into being. When push comes to shove, perhaps, he will make the “painful concession” of permitting the creation of an autonomous entity on no more than 42 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza, and try to pass this off under the sobriquet of a state. No one will be fooled. It is hoped that the US will not lend itself to such ploys, which will only generate further rancour and anti-American hostility, which, as the events of 11 September showed, can only lead to catastrophe.

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