Arafat Calls Bush's Promise, Making Sharon Look Irrelevant & US Leaders 'Like Mafia'.
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NICOSIA - Instant democratisation "is nothing but Cindrella's dream", says a high ranking Egyptian government source, pointing to what he calls a "cat and mouse game" between US President George W. Bush and his Palestinian counterpart Yasser Arafat. He says the game is tending to make Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon look irrelevant to what will shortly be going on between the US and Arab leaders.
This tends to epitomise a developing confrontation between a US administration seeking to democratise the Muslim World and Arab rulers wanting Bush first to deliver on his promise of a Palestine state. It is a race to see which of the two sides is really sincere and fair. The rulers say Bush's support for Sharon will never produce a serious democratisation agenda in this part of the world, not even if the US achieves quick military victory in Iraq and gets Saddam's regime overthrown.
The linkage between America's Iraq agenda and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become a fait accompli. This is thanks to Sharon who seems to be poised to damage the prestige of the greatest power on earth in Muslim eyes. But in the developing confrontation between the rulers and America, Sharon tends to be irrelevant. This became clear in the aftermath of a 10-day siege at Arafat's compound in Ramallah, which Israel was forced by US pressure to lift unconditionally on Sept. 29.
The tough line taken by Arafat after emerging from the siege, with enhanced popularity as a hero among Palestinians, highlighted the way in which Sharon was to be made irrelevant. Arafat dismissed as premature calls for political reform and the appointment of a prime minister, which the US and Israel have demanded as part of what he needs to do in order for negotiations to resume. At a meeting on Oct. 1 of the Fatah Central Committee, a body in which the majority had previously supported reforms and an immediate appointment of a prime minister, there was "consensus...that the prime minister should be appointed after the establishment of a Palestinian state and the drafting of a constitution", according to Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah member and aide to Arafat.
The message directed at the US, rather than Sharon, was that the Palestinians would not make concessions on political reform before Washington delivered on its promise of Palestinian statehood. Elections under occupation, in the Fatah perspective, would only serve to further divide the Palestinians with the Central Committee appearing to bow to US-Israeli pressure. Those who wanted the political reforms on the Palestinian side, with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) pre-positioned for the premiership, accused Sharon of having engineered the siege to undermine the Palestinian reform prospects.
After the Palestinian cabinet's resignation on Sept. 11, Arafat was to appoint a group of ministers more acceptable to reform-minded Fatah members on Sept. 26 - a date that coincided with the peak of the Israeli siege.
Pro-reform Palestinians believe that Sharon wants to prevent the emergence of democracy in the Palestinian territories because, if that were to happen, the international community would put much greater pressure on Israel to stop applying military force and to concede a state for the Palestinians. In fact, the siege made Arafat more relevant among the Palestinians.
Another high profile Palestinian Marwan Barghouti has faced three court hearings in Israel and is due to be tried as a terrorist linked to the deaths of 26 Israelis. Barghouti, who speaks fluent Hebrew and English, is attempting to turn the proceedings into a trial of the Israeli state and its occupation of Palestinian territories. He has prepared a 54-count indictment of the Israeli state for crimes against Palestinians. Some Palestinians, however, believe that Sharon is playing a subtle game whereby Israel would raise the profile of Barghouti through a public trial and thus build up his credentials as a replacement for Arafat. The Israeli armed forces have been training for a mission to kidnap and expel Arafat from the Palestinian areas.
Arafat is ignoring Sharon's tactics and is focused on getting the Bush administration to deliver a Palestinian state. This is not likely to happen in the near future, as Bush concentrates on getting rid of Saddam Hussein and starting what administration officials call "the march of freedom" in the Muslim World. But while Arafat can afford to ignore Sharon, Bush cannot do so, especially in the context of a war on Iraq which could easily drag in Israel if Saddam once again targets the Jewish state with Scud missiles. Thus, the US will have little choice but to ignore Arafat for the time being.
The Egyptian source says Arabs watching the way in which the Bush administration is treating Arafat will harden their view of the US, and that even before the Americans arrive in Iraq as "liberators". He says Washington would have succeeded in further stoking Arab hatred. In this climate, attempting to truly democratise the Arab World could prove to be more dangerous to the US as it may lead to the emergence of freely-elected governments with an anti-American agenda. The source adds that the existing rulers, though undemocratic, are the only buffers between the US and popular hatred nurtured over years of American support for Israel.
According to the source, comparisons of the Arab World with Germany and Japan after World War II are ill founded. Whereas Germany and Japan were ready for democracy after ideological and military defeats, this is not the case with the Arab World where the ideology America is seen trying to defeat is "Islam". In the Arab mind, Islam cannot be defeated. If the US manages to overthrow existing rulers, this would be interpreted as a downfall of autocrats kept in place in recent decades by American/Western aid or support.
What the US calls a "march of freedom", the source says, is interpreted in the Arab World as a "takeover by the US mafia". Few among the Arabs believe Bush's democratisation claims. Ousting Saddam is seen mainly as a bid to seize Iraqi oil. This perception began after Sept. 11, 2001, when Bush spoke about a "crusade" against terrorism. Muslims have bitter memories of medieval Crusaders who came to the Middle East in the name of God and then massacred them. The recent description of the Prophet Mohammed as a "terrorist" by rightwing US Evangelist Jerry Falwell has reinforced the perception of forthcoming massacres.
The source says "the American crusade in the name of democratisation" is seen in this light, adding that Bush's attempts to portray the forthcoming confrontation with Saddam on moral grounds does not make an impression in the Arab World. The horse-trading in the background to secure interests in the Iraqi oil sector in the post-Saddam era has dented Western credibility. On example is Russian President Putin's reported assurance to LUKoil CEO Vakit Alekperov that the company's stake in the giant West Qurna oilfield in Iraq has been guaranteed. The image of "American mafia" has been reinforced by the actions of Sharon, whose brazen attacks on the Palestinians have failed to get any meaningful response from Washington, and by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's famous description of "the co-called occupied territories". Arab hatred is mounting already, as shown by the Oct. 8 attack by two Kuwaitis on US Marines participating in a military exercise in Kuwait, which left one Marine dead.
One more challenge to Washington from Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) is a dossier on Israel's rapid expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A copy of this was presented on Oct. 8 to Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice by PA's reformist Finance Minister Salam Fayyad (a former IMF official and one of the few Palestinian aides who remain persona grata in the US). In the dossier, sent to the State Department, the PA warned that it may have to rethink the policy of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. It said this expansion would reduce a future Palestinian state to "the Middle East equivalent of a native American Indian reservation". The dossier and accompanying maps seek to show that prospects for a viable Palestinian state - a cornerstone of the international consensus on solving the Middle East conflict - is being undermined by a series of measures undertaken by Sharon's Israel. These include expansion of Jewish settlements in and around East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, construction of a security wall inside the West Bank, WB cantonisations, etc.
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Oct 28, 2002|
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