The Arab and Islamic countries that have been asked to join the coalition are required to insist on an end to the Israeli occupation immediately
Ending the Israeli occupation immediately is a prerequisite to forming the anti-terrorism coalition
On the occasion of the Jewish New Year, President Arafat declared a unilateral cease-fire and said that he hoped Israel would stop its attacks against the Palestinian people. President Arafat stated that the Palestinian people have chosen peace to be established between the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.
Shimon Peres announced that, in light of the expected calm over the next forty-eight hours, arrangements would be made to secure a lasting cease-fire and to implement the Mitchell report recommendations.
These rapid and unexpected developments may have come as a surprise to many, but not to those who are cognizant of the details and facts. The Arafat-Peres meeting issue suddenly seems a lot easier than it did one week ago. This most probably is due to the fact that the magnitude of the New York and Washington blow made all other issues seem less significant.
The reason for this change is the United States need for a coalition that includes Arab and Islamic states in order to strike against a number of Arab and Islamic organizations. The United States knows as it did when it was forming the coalition against Iraq, that the participation of Israel would eliminate any chance of Arab or Islamic participation.
Thus, the situation in the Middle East was transformed from a situation of lesser significance to one of equal or perhaps even greater importance. The Middle East situation became a prerequisite to building the coalition and therefore, a prerequisite for any strike the United States wishes to carry out against those believed to be involved in terrorist actions that caused an unparalleled disaster.
The United States government informed Israel that it could not officially join the coalition because this would immediately alienate all the Arab and Islamic countries that the United States needs. This provoked anger and rage within the Israeli government and specifically Israeli Prime Minister Sharon who had realized the seriousness of the situation.
The exclusion of Israel, and the inclusion of Arab and Islamic countries, would seriously harm Sharon’s plan to brand all Palestinians, Arabs and Moslems as terrorists. Sharon’s plan would have refuted any allegations that the Israeli occupation was organized state terrorism against the peoples of the region, especially the Palestinians. According to Sharon’s calculations, Israel would have the right to crush the Palestinians because they were terrorists.
The situation is different now because of America’s need, expressed to Sharon through various means. Following condensed contacts with high-ranking American, European and other officials, Sharon decided to take the initiative and give in a little, so that Palestinian gains and Israel’s losses would be minimal.
Under the circumstances, Sharon wanted to take advantage of what the Americans, Europeans and Russians had asked him to do é implementing a cease-fire and allowing Shimon Peres to meet with President Yasser Arafat. Peres and Arafat would discuss implementing a cease-fire and linking that to a long transitory schedule for implementing the Mitchell recommendations based on the Tennet accord.
For this reason Sharon allowed the meeting, then forbade it, then allowed it again on a few conditions, one of which was complete cease-fire for two days instead of seven.
The whole matter now revolves around a meeting to be held between President Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres. Sharon wanted to strike a preemptive blow to anything the Arab and Islamic countries might impose on the United States, given that the U.S. needs these countries’ approval and consent for any retaliatory operations. The Arab and Islamic countries could demand conditions more closely related to the essence of the situation in the Middle East; that is, putting an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian land, and implementing the Middle East related Security Council resolutions, particularly 242 and 338.
While Sharon announced his orders to halt military offensives, he was at the same time issuing orders to proceed with the military operation to annex a large part of the West Bank under the pretext of creating “military buffer zones”.
Sharon thinks that what his latest move will save him and his government and that the Palestinians will take the bait. Palestinian thinking is however outside of Sharon’s framework. The Palestinians, with their brave Intifada and their steadfastness in the face of the largest military machine in the Middle East, though unarmed, are thinking along the following lines:
First: On the Palestinian Front:
They will abide by President Arafat’s orders for a complete cease-fire, but they will closely monitor the actions of Sharon’s government and the occupation army.
The Palestinians will wage an Arab, regional and international diplomatic campaign to explain the intricacies of the situation and the need for swift movement in the Middle East.
They will work hard to reinstate these facts to the international public opinion; the facts being that the Israeli occupation is the source of terrorism, and that ending it is the only way to stop violence and counter-violence and to establish stability, security and safety for all.
Second: On the Arab and Islamic Fronts:
Intense contacts will be made with all Arab and Islamic countries, in particular with those asked to join the anti-terrorism coalition led by the United States. These countries must not be allowed to fall for American verbal or written promises before insisting on finding a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now, not in the future or after the completion of the war against terrorism.
We went through a similar experience during the Gulf war. The result of settling for American promises was ten years of a peace process ranging from Peres’s hesitance to implement, to Netanyahu’s refusal of peace, Barak’s deception aimed at not implementing resolution 242, and Sharon’s expanded occupation actions.
The opportunity we had in 1991 was lost, but now we have a new opportunity. We must not give in to promises, or get too involved in the details of implementing the Tennet accord or the Mitchell report recommendations. The main aim is to end the occupation now and not in the future.
The Taba negotiations reached an advanced stage, which can be built on for an agreement to be reached in a week. Arab and Islamic States must insist in a realistic and practical end to the Israeli occupation before any coalition is built.
This does not mean that fighting terrorism has to be postponed é on the contrary, this stand should indicate the need to end the Israeli occupation immediately so the coalition can start to fight terrorism. It must be clear that this is a necessary and just request because it is based on the unimplemented international resolutions. It is a stand consistent with the pledges made by the United States, the European Union, the countries of the Security Council and the G7 States plus Russia.
The European Union countries have a vital role to play at the moment. The past months have witnessed some European anger towards the complacent American position on fighting the organized Israeli terrorism against the Palestinian people. The Europeans now have an opportunity é the Palestinians will undoubtedly take advantage of this.
America’s need for its European partners presents an opportunity. The Europeans know that instability in the Middle East, caused by the Israeli occupation and its aggression against the Palestinians, will lead to serious repercussions if the occupation does not end.
Thus, the Palestinians will demand that the European Union countries and Russia exert pressure on the United States to adopt this stand so as to be rid of a source of mass terrorism é the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands.
It is a historic opportunity because President Bush now enjoys full authority without the need to obtain approval from the Congress, which has given him the authority it would give to a President during a time of war.
We therefore say to the American President that this is also his opportunity, and that of the United States, to establish peace in the Middle East. The American administration must not miss this opportunity, neither should other Middle East countries.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.