For the second time in two days President Bush expressed his disappointment at Yasser Arafat. Other officials, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, directed a lot of blame at President Arafat as if he was the one responsible for the deteriorating situation in the Middle East region. As if they were his tanks surrounding Israeli cities and placing them under siege, and storming Israeli towns and villages.
The reason for this, according to what President Bush and the American officials announced, is the information provided to them by Israel to prove President Arafat’s involvement with the ship Karine A, captured five hundred miles south of the Eilat port in international waters, which was carrying fifty tons of weapons.
It is obvious that the Karine A was not the reason behind the American administration’s stand towards President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. One does not have to be very intelligent to notice that this attitude started when President George W. Bush entered the White House.
Although the Palestinian Authority’s, and President Arafat’s, ties with the American administration are not new, George Bush adopted Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon’s stand from the second he assumed the post of President of the United States. He did this to please some Congress members who support Israel, regardless of its government is or who the Prime Minister is, and who are against the Palestinian people and oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, regardless of who their National Authority is or who their President and leader is. President Bush did not invite President Arafat to Washington as expected. This was based on Sharon’s request and under the pretext that inviting Arafat would encourage the Palestinians to continue in their attacks against Israel, Israel’s soldiers and against the settlers who live in settlements that were built on Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, after they had been confiscated by the Israeli occupation forces. President Bush took this stand months before the two brutal attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, and long before the Afghanistan war, and before Israel captured the Karine A in the Red Sea. The issue is not the arms ship.
The American administration’s position towards the Middle East peace process and a political solution is subject to many considerations, of which the United States’ vital strategic interests in the Middle East are not a part.
President Bush’s administration has, from day one, handled the ongoing conflict in the Middle East with great and obvious bias towards Israel, even though Israel is the aggressor and is the one occupying Palestinian lands, and Israel is the one the world requires to implement international legitimacy resolutions, particularly Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
Matters must be put right, they must be returned to their normal state. This requires international European, Russian and Chinese efforts to persuade the American administration that its current policy in the Middle East will only lead to more disasters and tragedies. The statement issued by the European Union Foreign Ministers clearly indicates where this international effort must be directed; that is, exert pressure on the American administration to alter its unquestionably biased stand towards Israel.
The new Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people started before Bush entered the White House, and escalated following his becoming President, and has gone too far over the past six months.
The Israeli government headed by Sharon risked the use of destructive military might to force the Palestinian people and its National Authority to submit to the solution Sharon wants – abandoning the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people and accepting to submit forever to Israeli occupation and slavery. Since Sharon took power, the occupation forces have imposed a suffocating military and logistic siege on all PA controlled areas, and have been abusing the Palestinian people with destruction, murders and assassinations.
This prompted the people and their factions to gradually use light weapons to defend themselves against tanks, F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters and other weapons. It should be noted that all the Israeli military attacks took place, and are taking place still, on Palestinian lands and not in Israel, which conclusively proves that the Israeli army is the aggressor and the attacker while the Palestinian people are merely defending themselves in their homes and on their land.
The Israeli government thus violated all signed agreements as well as generally violating all international agreements and treaties. It has crossed all red lines and is implementing the military plan drawn up by the officers of the Israeli Chiefs of Staff which was called “Field of Thorns”, and its follow up, which was given the name “Hell”. Despite all this, President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority sought diligently to stop the cycle of violence. The PA accepted the agreement drawn up by the head of the CIA Tenet. It accepted the recommendations of the Mitchell committee and waited for the United States and the international community to implement these and send international observers to oversee this implementation.
The American administration however backed away from this pledge, not because it was busy with other matters (the American administration announced more than once and reiterated that its concern with the Middle East problem continues). After much delay the American administration finally sent General Zinni to follow up, accompanied by Burns from the State Department.
Zinni came up with a formula to draw up a timetable to begin implementing the Tenet-Mitchell package, but Sharon would sabotage these efforts every time they reached the point of implementation – either by using the seven days excuse or by assassinating Palestinian activists, knowing very well that the Palestinians would avenge every activist assassinated by Sharon with operations that would worsen the situation.
The last attempt made by President Arafat and the Palestinian leadership was that which President Arafat began with a speech (broadcast on both radio and television) in which he addressed the Palestinian people and called on all organizations to honor and implement the cease-fire decision. He told them that anyone who violates the decision and does not honor it would be considered an outlaw.
The administration knew of the speech and the stands that were going to be announced, and it encouraged it and promised to guarantee a constructive Israeli reaction. According to the American promise, Israel would stop all shootings (assassinations and infiltrating PA areas), and would begin to lift the siege imposed on Palestinian towns and villages.
This did not however take place. The morning following President Arafat’s speech, Sharon’s government used Apache helicopters to assassinate activists in the city of Hebron. Storming of PA areas continued and so did the demolition of houses and the shelling of residential neighborhoods with tank artillery.
Despite all this, the Palestinian Authority controlled the reactions, and provided the United States with three weeks of complete calm. Once again, the American administration missed this opportunity as per Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s request. This request did not come based on the cabinet’s decision, or even on the inner cabinet’s decision. Instead it was sent to President Bush in a private message from Sharon delivered as usual by the Israeli-American businessman Ari Ginger (who has an interesting past with many question marks). This prompted Deputy Israeli Defense Minister Dalia Rabin to publicly express her outrage for not using the three quiet weeks to move forward towards implementing the Tenet-Mitchell package.
All this might be well known, but the American administration perhaps thinks that the European Union, Russia and the Palestinians neither know nor see. Then came the new siege that was imposed on President Arafat, after destroying his planes and the runways and landing strips of the airports. The American administration remained silent thus violating all its pledges, disregarding all the commitments it pledged for itself and the world (or at least for the Palestinians and the Israelis).
We return to the Karine A issue. The American administration used this ship as an excuse to justify what took place prior to the piracy carried out by Israel in international waters, far from Palestinian beaches. The Karine A was the excuse Sharon was waiting for. It is another attempt by Sharon to distract the world, and the United States in particular, from the core of the problem – the Israeli occupation and the need to end it, not the smuggling of weapons.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument and to discuss the matter with the American administration, that the weapons that were on board the ship Karine A were indeed weapons that were bought by the Palestinians and that they were trying to get them to the Gaza Strip. What is there in this matter that is punishable by the international community, the UN Charter, the Geneva Convention and all international treaties???
Israel is a state that has occupied Palestinian lands, and does not implement international legitimacy resolutions that everyone (including the U.S.) is demanding that it implement. Therefore, the UN Charter indisputably gives the Palestinian people every right to defend itself and resist the occupation with all possible means. In this context, any Palestinian attempt to acquire weapons for the purpose of self-defense is an internationally approved and legitimate attempt.
Israel violated all agreements signed with the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization by infiltrating its territories, killing civilians, destroying houses and imposing a suffocating siege on the entire Palestinian people. It has used all banned weapons and F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters and tanks against the unarmed Palestinian people who do not have an army. It is then an Israeli war against a people with no army. This people has the right to try and obtain defensive weapons – weapons against the tanks that are killing civilians, destroying houses and closing in on civilians. Defensive weapons against F-16 fighter planes and Apache helicopters that destroy police and security headquarters and assassinate Palestinian activists.
President Bush swore to defend the United States and the American nation, and this is one of his responsibilities as the elected President of the U.S. if it or Americans come under attack or are in danger. President Arafat took the same oath when the Palestinian people elected him as their President.
So why then does President Bush insist on depriving the Palestinians of the same rights and duties; that is, the right and duty to defend the nation if it comes under attack or is in danger, when he knows that the aggression against the Palestinian people began when the occupation did, that the occupation must go, and that the Palestinian people have the right to establish their independent state? He himself declared this and announced it from the United Nations’ podium and in front of the whole world community.
Once again we say to President Bush that Yasser Arafat is a national liberation hero, and he is a terrorist only as much as George Washington and Charles De Gaulle were.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.