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Middle East - Conclusions to Peace - The Moderate Perspective.

The perspective among the moderates in both Israeli and Arab camps are hardening in a very visible way. From another angle, the moderates on both are also becoming increasingly helpless to pursue their agenda of peace as the rhetoric of violence reaches a high pitch, and its apparent justifiability seems very logical in the eyes of public opinion. Thus, with domestic political considerations in mind among other things, Israeli and Arab moderates are finding themselves gravitating towards the rhetoric of the hardliners.

Efforts continue to be made by the Israeli left-wing to restore a sense of sanity to their interactions with the Palestinians. Well-known "peaceniks" like Yossi Beilin of the Labour Party and others continue to hold joint press conferences with their Palestinian counterparts. But there are no takers for their ideas among the general public, on either side. Moreover, even among the left-wingers in Israel the view is taking hold that Arafat is not a leader with whom a lasting deal can be made. They ask what Israel has received in return from the Palestinians, having already given away control of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank - and they argue that the level of violence continues as before.

Both Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, considered to be among the most pro-peace leaders Israel has ever had, have been issuing increasingly tough statements in recent weeks. It has been reported that after an upsurge of violence in pre-1967 Israel over the past couple of months, including the killing of two school children and the bombing of a discotheque, Sharon had to restrain Peres - currently the foreign minister - who was in favour of a more unrestrained response. Peres has, on the other hand, kept open the possibility of dealing directly with Arafat, having held a three-hour meeting with him in Portugal on June 30.

Barak has taken a clear position that dealing with Arafat would yield no positive results and that Israel must wait for a new Palestinian leadership. Writing in the 'International Herald Tribune' of July 31, 2001, he wrote: "Arafat did not prove to be a partner for peace and quite probably will not be one in the future. At Camp David, Mr. Arafat well understood that the moment of truth had come and that painful decisions needed to be made by both sides. He failed this challenge".

Speaking about the crucial Camp David negotiations of July 2000, he said: "It is wrong to think that anyone at the Camp David talks tried to dictate to Mr. Arafat the details of an agreement. The ideas that were on the table contained painful compromises for both sides. But Mr. Arafat was not ready to accept the ideas presented by then President Bill Clinton as a framework for negotiations. There was little evidence that Mr. Arafat was negotiating in good faith.... The assertion now made by some observers that Mr. Arafat was pushed unwillingly to make peace at Camp David is somewhat strange. He signed a series of agreements committing him to make peace in 1993. He even received a Nobel Peace Prize to encourage him to live up to his commitments".

On the Arab side, the moderates have become equally as tough. Key US allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Jordan and Kuwait are criticising the actions of the Sharon government. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdel Aziz, who is the day-to-day ruler of the kingdom, has protested the Bush administration's approach to the situation in the Middle East by refusing to visit the White House. This gesture has made him instantly popular throughout the region, with profuse praise from the Arab media, and enhanced his pan-Arab nationalist credentials.

In fact, Abdullah and other moderate leaders in the region have little choice in the matter, as there is no other way to limit the scope for the revival of radical Islamist and rejectionist platforms. Reports say that US diplomats in the region have warned Washington that even Kuwaitis, who have shown a disregard for pan-Arab issues and backed Washington on virtually all of its Middle East policies, now want to discuss nothing but the Palestinian-Israeli situation.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Aug 6, 2001
Previous Article:Middle East - Conclusions to Peace - A Rejectionist Revival.
Next Article:Middle East - Conclusions to Peace - The Question Of Public Opinion.

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