How the Arabs manage the crisis

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The naivety of the Arabs is dismaying. For days and weeks they were waiting for the G8 summit’s declaration about the Middle-East, as if – by a magical spell- it was going to allay all their pains and give the right remedy to the chronic illness of their region. Just a declaration ! That’s all what they were striving for, albeit the archives of the United Nations are full of such good intentioned declarations that never have helped changing anything in the sad story of the conflict. And now that the G8 summit gave them what they asked for, they grew aware that they are as powerless as they were before it, since Israel made clear that it would not accept outside monitors.

So what ? For those who observe the reactions of the varied parties in the present context of crisis, the incongruity of the Arab attitudes is not only plain, but blinding. Nothing is easier today than to put all the responsibility of the ongoing bloodshed on the Israeli back, since it is definitely clear that Sharon is blocking any progress. Indeed, the man never pretended that he would take on the charge of granting the best results out of the Oslo process. He rejected it, everybody knows that, and if he has been brought up to the top, it is indubitable that he was being carried by the wave of bitterness and furor that shook the Israelis after the failure of Camp David II. Were the Arabs unaware of this ? Unless, they were fooling themselves, they could not be so out of touch as to the real prospects at stake. They understood very well the « message » given to them by the victory of Sharon in the last Israeli elections. They did not miss the point, for a little time after that event, they sent an answer to the Israelis through the Arab summit of Amman, calling for the freeze of any contacts with Israel, and even the necessity of bringing the Israeli Prime Minister before a law-court as a war criminal ! That was an event without precedent. Such boldness was not to pass unnoticed, although nobody accorded it much importance. Yet, one of its results consisted in putting the biddings very high. This is to say that there was a shared responsibility for the next evolvements, although it is understood that Israel remains mainly accountable for the Al-Aqsa provocation.

And since these are the known facts, what were the Arabs expecting from the G8 summit and removing earth and heaven to obtaining it ? An intervention of the great powers of the planet in order to put an end at the bloodshed ? Something like what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina or lately in the Kosovo ?

Far from them were these thoughts. The Arabs- it is well known- have always rejected any armed intervention in their region, unless it aims at saving one of their regimes from the belligerent greed of another. Such interventions have not been inaugurated by the alliance that ousted the Iraqis from Kuwait. Many years before that, Habib Bourguiba allowed France to intervene in South Tunisia against the rebels who came from Libya, as it was rumored. Then the two countries were on the edge of war, and France was having the best part in arming the Tunisian troops, who few months before have not hesitated to kill at least 400 people who were just demonstrating. The example is full edifying : When the French were siding with the Tunisian regime against Libya, they were considered « our best friends », but since they began to point out to the dark situation of the human rights and their repeated violation by the new dictator of Tunisia, they became «  nostalgic of the colonization » ! The example shows that the Western interventions were not always what an official Arab view deemed them to be : i.e. motivated only by the greed for the Arab riches ! Where are the riches in the Balkans, or in Somalia or Rwanda ? These are poor countries that needed only to be helped for the sake of humanity. Nobody pretends that the Western governments are more inclined to be philanthropic than realistic. Yet, in the Middle East they can still do much more than they have so far. But nobody in the Arab world seems to care ! All what they were asking for concerned a declaration about outside monitors ! Then once issued, everybody would go home with the feeling of the accomplished duty, while the violence would go on and on in definitively.

What would people facing the tanks and the helicopters and the bombs do with a declaration that as soon as it was issued the Israeli government rejected it ? The Arab governments in return seemed almost euphoric ! What a joy to get at last an « acknowledgment » of the US ? What ? Didn’t Mr. Bush give up « under the Arab pressure » ? The hell he did ! So it is not far away the day he would kick Sharon and Perez outside the White House ! Anyway, since Sharon has «  been indicted an judged and condemned » by the BBC, the Arabs consider that they are done with him : they have prevailed ! That’s why the last meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers in Cairo was very very careful not to bring again that « rant » about Sharon’s crimes on the timetable. The extremely moderate tone of their last finding contrasted plainly with the precedent. No wonder, they wanted to convey a message to the G8 summit : «  We claim nothing more than an acknowledgment that we need your monitors » ! Otherwise : an acknowledgment of the sorrowful inability of 22 Arab States to manage this crisis !

What do you want ? These are the facts ! The editorial of « The Jordan Times » for instance, was saying on July 22 : « … The least the summit could do is to unconditionally endorse King Abdullah’s repeated calls for international observers in Palestine, without allowing Israel any veto power in such regard ».

You would notice by the way that the « calls for international observers » are neither King Abdullah own prerogative nor Arafat’s , since this is also what Mr. Chirac or Mr. Ross may claim.

What is most striking in the current crisis however , beyond the incompetence of the Arab governments, is their ability to hold on with an attitude and its contrast at once ! On the one hand, the last reunion of the Foreign Ministers in Cairo kept the profile low and did not show much boldness in its statement about the situation. But on the other hand, its host, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak let his anger burst out freely against Sharon when he declared to the reporters last week that the Israeli Premier «  is quite unable to achieve peace, for he knows nothing but war and killing… »

For those who think that Mubarak was merely exasperated and that his unprecedented anger would not have further effects on the Egyptian policy, there is another declaration of his Foreign Minister they should read and well understand. Mr. Ahmed Maher said on Saturday July 21 : « The current government in Israel led by Ariel Sharon is a government that is not capable of establishing peace ». Furthermore, Mr Maher added : « There is no doubt that among Sharon’s plans is liquidating the Palestinian Authority, politically and physically… »

One must notice however that since that plan about the « all out offensive » has been revealed by the British Foreign Report, then by the Israelis themselves, it has become the main object of commentaries in the Arab media, before getting more « credibility » to the point of being thus « confirmed » by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister. Meanwhile, nobody in the Arab media- political world seemed to care about its trustworthiness. Even if that was only an Israeli intoxication, it sounds as if from the simple citizen to the Minister everybody is taking it seriously ! It is true that Sharon is not reassuring . But really, who among the Israeli former Premiers was ? Rabin ? Netanyahu ? Shamir ? Barak ? Or even the « dove » Perez ? Who among those men has never ordered to shoot at the Arabs ?

What the Arab media miss is the fact that Sharon likely relishes to be so frightening . This is exactly the purpose he had been elected to fulfill. It is his mission to appear terrifying to the Arabs. And this is just what they are helping him to achieve.

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.