The European road to Tel Aviv goes through Washington



Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign minister, let out the European outcry against the United States’ hesitance and even resignation towards its responsibility to world peace and stability.

He clearly criticized the US administration’s position and called on it to play a more active and responsible role towards the Middle East.

Other European countries did the same, urgently sending Javier Solana to participate in setting up a meeting between President Yasser Arafat and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres. Solana held several meetings after which he realized that the Palestinians would insist that the meeting must have a substantive content, an agenda and draft agreements before it is held. Also, the Palestinians would not accept less than an agenda that would focus on drafting a time table for implementing the Mitchell Committee recommendations as a package deal instead of the previous proposal put forth by US secretary of state, Colin Powell, according to which the Israeli prime minister would be given the authority to decide when these implementations were to be implemented. This, in turn, would only be after he decides that the cease-fire is actually in effect. The Palestinians é who met with Peres in the presence of Mr. Solana relayed this message in a meeting held on Tuesday. Nobody knows yet if Sharon will agree to grant Peres the authority to decide on the issues proposed by Dr. Saeb Erekat and Ahmad Qrei (Abu Ala) in the meeting. In the meantime, President Vladimir Putin and the Israeli premier discussed in Moscow the importance of implementing the Mitchell recommendations as soon as possible, after Moscow agreed that any role it would play in the Middle East would be conditioned on the mutual consent of the Israelis and the Palestinians. We have no doubt that this European activity and the Russian involvement are very important because Washington gave the green light to both of these developments without itself being a party in them.

King Abdallah II will head to Washington to express the Arab viewpoint, which he discussed with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and Prince Saud Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister (who carried a letter from King Fahd in this regard).

This is all after the summit held by King Fahd and Prince Abdallah with President Arafat. The Arab viewpoint can be summarized in that the Arabs are urging the United States to play a more active role than it is playing at present and also urging Washington not to distance itself from the volatile situation in the Middle East.

However, the White House has maintained its position until now, despite recommendations from the US state department on the necessity to play a more active role in the Middle East before matters deteriorate even further.

Many Arabs wonder about the reasons for the White House’s nonchalance and distancing from the Middle East, despite the extent and strategic importance of American interests in the region. Interpretations of this position are numerous and varying. However, reality points to a number of factors and internal struggles in Washington, which led to the decision by the White House, and by President George W. Bush in particular, to take such a stance until now.

President Bush is already planning for a victory in his second presidential term. He diligently read a report prepared by the Republican Party after the loss of George Bush senior to the Democrat Bill Clinton. In its conclusion, it gives the reasons that led to Clinton’s success and his landslide victory over George Bush. One of the reasons was the stringent position that Bush senior took against Israel because of its hindrance to and refusal of the American peace initiative of land for peace and the stinging words of James Baker to the Israelis because of their repeated refusal of US proposals. This assessment report included this reason among the reasons for Bush’s defeat to Clinton, which were added by the pro-Israel members of the Republican Party é although it was not the sole reason.

No doubt, the attempts at manipulating the votes in Florida and the success of the Republicans in this regard, is evidence that the American-Jews do not control the American electoral turnout even if they were able to play a role in funding and supporting the candidates through donating to their election campaigns.

During this period, President Bush is seeking to obtain the approval of the Congress to fund the anti-missile shield program. The US defense ministry and the electronic and military industries group have given him their support in this regard, because funding this program, which will “judiaze” world stability would bring in phenomenal profits for these companies. Bush is hoping to gain their support for the next presidential elections and is also looking for them to fund his next election campaign. The US defense ministry and the White House have held extensive contacts with members of Congress to convince them to support and fund this program. This is where the role of Israel and its supporters from the Congress comes in, regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans.

This approach created an implicit and undeclared conflict between the state department, headed by Colin Powell and the defense ministry, which is allied with national security advisor Condelisa Rice, although this contradiction could be detected through the conflicting semi-public positions. However these factors and internal struggles in Washington do not excuse the US administration from bearing its responsibilities. On the contrary, everyone should understand that the White House is placing the entire region on the brink of eruption, in the words of Hubert Vedrine, France’s foreign minister.

This requires that the European Union intensify its communications and pressure on Washington since the European’s direct efforts with Israel have not yet led to any tangible results. Neither have they helped in stopping the war, which Sharon and his forces have waged on the Palestinian people.

There is no doubt that the leaders of the major European countries are able to carry out this role. We believe that coordination between the European role and the Russian role in pressuring the White House would be able to activate the American role. The United States is the only party capable of putting a stop to Sharon’s criminal war against the Palestinians. And an official Arab role, which would put pressure on Washington, would have a supportive effect in activating this European role.

The unofficial summit between French President Jacque Chirac and German advisor Gerhard Shroeder was no doubt important, since it took into consideration the dangerous situation in the Middle East and ways to extinguish the flames and also how to reactivate the peace process. However, it will not achieve anything tangible if the two European leaders do not put their findings into a framework, which could be activated and able to make a difference.

An active and effective framework would be one that follows -in an immediate and strict manner é everything taking place in the Middle East.

This would require that the leaders of the major European countries call for a meeting with President Bush and also that President Vladimir Putin meet with Bush to discuss a three-way formula and the formation of a follow-up committee with a mandate to pressure the Israeli government into implementing the Mitchell Committee recommendations. This committee would promise to send European-American-Russian observers to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to supervise the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and the completion of a full withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from Palestinian territories.

If for any reason, Russia does not participate, these forces could be sent by NATO. Another option would be that in addition to these forces, Egypt and Jordan would join, given that they are the two countries that signed peace agreements with Israel and are partners in the peace process in Palestine.

Within this scenario, the White House could be active without its internal plans in the United States and with the Congress being affected. Europe is the US’s ally and has an important impact on the Congress.

And the United States has vast strategic interests.

Enough is enough. Europe must be as active as it was in Kosovo. The Middle East is Europe’s neighbor just as the Balkans are.

Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.