Pleading an Arab cause

We are faced with a tragic reality. Israel besieges the Palestinian people. The siege is total and devastating: economic, financial, military, political and social. The Palestinians are isolated into tiny “Bantustan” enclaves. Israel’s government wars against the Palestinians confined to these enclaves.

And that war is licensed by the White House. The US provides Israel with arms; US aid pays for Israel’s technological edge. Politically, the US gives Israel every advantage. The US produced the Mitchell report which all parties accepted. Yet it weighted things in Israel’s favour; the loophole was the timeline.

In operational terms, the Mitchell report recommends that the parties reaffirm their commitment to all signed agreements and terms of reference; that they declare an unconditional cease-fire; and that they sustain the cease-fire, while Israel implements confidence-building measures such as ending the siege, freezing settlement building, and implementing all prior agreements. While this happens, the parties are to proceed to permanent status negotiations which are to conclude within a year, in accordance with the agreement reached at Sharm El-Sheikh. Lastly, observers will monitor implementation of the agreement.

But the US has upended all this. Secretary of State Colin Powell has insisted that the Palestinians alone sustain the cease-fire, before Israel is required to implement any of its “Tenet” commitments arising from the cease-fire, or initiate any confidence-building measures. Worse still, Powell gave Israel discretion to select a week during which it alone may judge whether the Palestinians have ended violence. As a result the week has never ended, because it has never begun. In short, Israel may kill Palestinians with abandon, without being accountable to the Mitchell report, because implementation of the Mitchell report has yet to start.

There is more. No time-scale for the Mitchell report means no Israeli withdrawal; no ending of the siege; no halting of settlement growth — and no observers. No time-scale means houses can be demolished, it means Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory can escalate with impunity. It means Israel can continue to assassinate its opponents without fear of censure (the death toll is 59 at the time of writing). European diplomats, at least, had urged the US to start the process and dispatch observers. They failed. Instead, the killing continued and within a grisly 36 hours, American-made precision guided missiles fired by American-made Israeli Apache gunships murdered 18 Palestinians. The one thing Israel has stopped short of is a total attack on and occupation of all the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. This alone the US will not countenance.

Our Arab brothers are our last hope. They must pressure the US to end its support of Israel and, therefore, the killing of Palestinians, and allow international observers to give some protection to the Palestinian people. They must join the Europeans and urge America to act.

What else can they do? Certainly, we are not so irresponsible as to provoke them into war with Israel by asking them to protect us militarily, in accordance with the Arab League charter. We understand all realities, and we are still committed to the peace process even if Mr Sharon is not. There are lots of things that our brothers are not prepared to do. But there are things which they should do; not only for Palestine, but for the security of the entire Arab nation. The last two Arab summits clearly committed the Arab leaders to using all their resources to regain the rights of Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese to their land and independence through the strategy of peace.

How can this be done? The keys are the political determination to stand up to Israeli aggression (and American acquiescence) and a willingness to link America’s economic interests in the Arab world to our interests in Palestine. If these interests coincide, the US will find stability in the area, predicated on a just peace and international legality. But without that peace, there can be no real security and stability. And, of course, our Arab friends should use any other non-military measures to stop Israeli aggression and force it to withdraw from the Arab lands it occupied in 1967.

There lies a worthy goal for any forthcoming Arab summit: identifying, within those constraints, the policy tools available to Arabs for stopping Israeli aggression and seeking Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories, while protecting the Palestinian people. At heart, this means redefining relations with the US, so that American policy in the Middle East can be influenced in the direction of a real, just, fair, and comprehensive peace. In direct political terms, this means getting the US to stop its tacit support of Israeli assassinations and killings and to hold Israel accountable for its violations of the Mitchell and Tenet reports, and to dispatch international observers to the area at once.

One could give many examples of these policies and the measures needed to implement them. One could also list all the areas of common interest between the Arab world and its international partners, particularly the US, and see which of them may be practically and safely used to get the world to listen, and act to stop the Israeli killing. Should that list of common interests be enumerated, the US business partners of Arab governments will sprint to their Congressmen to urge them to pursue peace and stability even-handedly. If the Arab countries can do this without a new summit, then we don’t need a summit. And if the Arab countries cannot do any more, we still thank them and will continue our struggle for freedom and independence.

We shall never abandon our identification with the Arab nation nor our pledge to protect Jerusalem and the holy places; nor will we relinquish any other goal of the Arab people. We will not surrender, and we will never give up our rights guaranteed under the peace process and its agreements. We will remain grateful to the Arab people and governments, particularly Egypt for everything they have sacrificed for our cause. In three huge wars, the people of Egypt spilt their blood to combat Israel’s aggression, and to liberate Arab lands, and have done so much to help us regain our land through peace and negotiations. We will never forget that.

Our anger is against Israeli policies, especially those of the Mafia presently in power in Israel that wages a war of terror against our people. We are angry too at the policies of a US government that supports this murderous Israeli administration. The days ahead will be hard. May God give us the courage, the patience, the perseverance and the wisdom to withstand them, and proceed to better days of freedom, independence and peace.

The writer is Palestinian minister of international cooperation and planning.

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