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Pan-Americana Is In Trouble - The Implications For The Arabs.

*** The Status Quo In The Arab World Has Become Untenable

*** Saddam May Brandish The Oil Weapon And Wait For Other Arab Producers To Increase Oil Supplies, Thus Embarrassing Themselves

*** Not Many Rulers Will Forgive Saddam If He Activates This Terrible Scenario

*** But Those Who Wish To Resume Bombings Are Calling For Such Moves

NICOSIA - The deterioration in the Middle East peace process means Pax Americana will prove to be less smooth to implement than US strategists had hoped. The Arabs and Jews have reached a deadlock over Jerusalem, which neither side has the political courage to break with the concessions needed. Prospects for a peace deal are not high which means more violence can be expected even if the latest attempt to end the upsurge of violence in the territories is successful. With the prospects of regional prosperity based on Arab-Israeli peace now receding, Pax Americana will no longer be accepted easily even among allies of the US.

A main challenge facing Pax Americana in the Middle East is the perceived bias on the American side. When the peace process appeared to be delivering some results, there was a willingness among the Arabs in general to believe the US was finally prepared to be a neutral broker. But after the incidents in the Palestinian territories since late September, this willingness no longer exists. The vast majority in the Arab World, as well as in the Islamic World - whether the community is located in Cairo or Washington - believe that the US is inherently biased in favour of Israel. The decision by Hillary Clinton to return $50,000 in campaign funds for her New York Senate race from the American Muslim Alliance while at the same time accepting funds from the Jewish lobby was another confirmation of this bias.

As such, Pax Americana is itself seen as a "US-Zionist plot" or a "conspiracy against the Muslims". In this environment, it is virtually impossible for allies of the US in the Arab World to appear to be ready for a full normalisation of relations with Israel - which is one of the main pillars of Pax Americana in the Middle East. The implications, therefore, can be seen as follows:

1. The US, like any other human being or power, always makes mistakes when it thinks it can afford them. This fact has negative implications for Washington's Arab allies, who are not only seeing those mistakes but living them simply by watching the Arab street or the debates on TV. With satellite TV networks now spread so widely in the Arab World, not a single Arab anywhere can miss what those networks are showing - the American mistakes are becoming more obvious by the day.

From the Arab perspective, the fact that people in Washington believe they are at the centre of the world and that only what they think counts, shows that despite all its media resources Washington of the 21st century is no different from ancient Rome when a message could take months to reach its destination. From the Arab standpoint, the behaviour of the US has imperial overtones - something that is very hard for the regimes to be associated with at a time when radical Islamists are calling for jihad against both Israel and the US.

2. The mindset in the Arab World is that no alien Jew should feel at home while living in the middle of the Arab World. This is now one of the main pre-occupations of Arab regimes allied to the US. The negative repercussions of Washington's mistakes for their regimes are emerging by the day. There have been major demonstrations in Morocco and Jordan, where recently enthroned kings now have to face situations which their fathers had to deal with.

While the regimes themselves may be willing to accommodate the idea of a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab World, they cannot say this openly in the present situation because most of them have based their legitimacy on confrontation with Israel, or at least on getting a fair deal in negotiations with Israel. The fact that the US repeatedly shows its bias towards Israel, whether through a Congress resolution condemning the Palestinians or through an abstention at the UN, makes it virtually impossible for Washington's Arab allies to fall in line with Pax Americana. From the American perspective, Israeli Premier Ehud Barak has gone as far as a dovish leader in Israel can go, but for the Arabs giving up "even an inch" of East Jerusalem is unthinkable. In this respect, many observers say that forcing the pace with the recent Camp David negotiations was a mistake.

3. Arab allies of the US will begin to challenge the tenets of Pax Americana if the situation worsens. Things are already bad enough for Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Defence Minister Prince Sultan to blast the US. If the negotiation deadlock continues and violence resumes, then there is a real risk that some of these allies may break ranks. Although the regimes themselves do not want to come out from under the umbrella of Pax Americana, which provides an assurance for the stability of these regimes, they would do so if they calculate that being part of Pax Americana is more risky than staying away from it.

The direct criticism of the US by Crown Prince Abdullah was one warning signal, especially in view of the fact that Washington needs Saudi co-operation to keep oil prices in check. Another was a decision by King Abdullah of Jordan to send Premier Ali Abu Ragheb to Iraq on Nov. 1 to attend a trade fair; he was the first Arab head of government to visit Baghdad since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. Several countries currently under the Pax Americana umbrella have sent aircraft to Iraq in defiance of American and British wishes.

The challenge to Pax Americana is also coming from the Arab street, which means partly from Islamic radicals who have a more direct line to the street than the ruling superstructures. On the global TV networks, the Arabs have seen the weakness of Israel. They have seen that the stone-throwers as well as scattered gunmen of "Intifada 2000" have managed to frighten the Israelis into disproportionate retaliation. They have seen that Israeli retaliation with helicopter gunships cannot win the battles in the narrow alleys - something which the US is now calling an "asymmetric war". Separately, the victory of Hizbollah which drove out the Israelis in south Lebanon has had a morale-boosting effect throughout the Arab World, with youngsters now believing it is possible to defeat Israel even though it has a massive qualitative advantage.

All these are causes of concern for the regional allies of the US because an "intifada-style" uprising can be launched against unpopular regimes as well. No pro-US ruler in the Middle East wants to take the risk of appearing too close to Israel. In the aftermath of the attack on the USS Cole, Yemenis were surprised to find out that their government had provided harbour facilities to US warships imposing the sanctions against Iraq. Sanaa has been among the countries which always opposed the sanctions regime. The regime will now find it hard to expand such facilities, and the prospects of turning the strategically located Socotra Island into a base facility for the US - as was once mooted by the US Central Command - now seems very dim.

Washington's loss in terms of the setbacks for Pax Americana is a gain for Saddam Hussein of Iraq. In the current regional situation, to the Arab in the street Saddam seems like the most courageous of Arab leaders, the man who stood up to the US and now seems to be overcoming isolation. With the sanctions being challenged in different ways with increasing frequency, observers say that Washington is finding out that as long as Saddam remains in power, the Gulf war is unfinished business. Yet there's not much they can do now to remove him from power.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Nov 6, 2000
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