Disappointments are commonly relative to expectations and, therefore, the failure of the Arab summit, which is convening in Amman today, to come up with something worthy of satisfying the Arab peoples’ great hopes will be deeply painful and bitterly resented.
Although the challenges before the summit are demanding, and indeed tough, the issues are hard and complicated, and the Arab political climate is not yet that cloudless; any such failure could be explainable, but, certainly, not understandable or forgivable. The risks of failure, mainly with respect to the two major issues standing high on the summit agenda, Iraq and Palestine, outweigh the challenges and could trigger harmful, serious consequences.
A mood of widespread despair, perplexity, gloom and deep pain has been building up for years amongst the Arabs as a result of the incomprehensible injustice inflicted on the Iraqis, in the form of a cruel, abusive blockade that has been imposing a stranglehold on their innocent lives for over ten years; and on the Palestinians who were totally eradicated from their homeland, over half a century ago, and have been pursued with crushing blows continuously since. Neither the Iraqis nor the Palestinians did ever commit any crime to justify such cruel injustice, indifference and disdain by the international community.
The Arab people, who have been witnessing for decades, and with a deep sense of humiliation and bewilderment, the erosion of the authority and stature of their nation, as a result of disunity, loss of willpower, perpetual inter-Arab conflicts and contradictions, simply will not tolerate the continuation of this ignominious state of affairs forever. They will not tolerate it because, first, they are fully aware that the Arab nation has plenty of assets, resources, means, talents, advantage and potential strength to place it in the very forefront of nations, if it only activated its latent willpower, and it has no excuse not to; and second, because the humiliation resulting from mounting suffering, ongoing human tragedies and excruciating paralysis of life in Iraq, as the sanctions continue, and from an Israeli barbaric onslaught, (and now also a medieval type blockade) on the Palestinians, already under harsh Israeli military occupation for over half a century, has reached unbearable limits.
Firm and decisive summit action is, therefore, urgently demanded on these two pressing issues. Obviously, such action is not going to be a straightforward function.
On the Iraqi question, significant and determined efforts have, in fact, been exerted by the Jordanian hosts, lead and directed by His Majesty King Abdullah himself, for quite a while, in order to prepare the ground for a possible reconciliation between Iraq, on one side, Kuwait and the other Gulf states on the other. This is a primary prerequisite for the Arabs to regain the initiative, which they had lost in the early days of the crisis (against vigorous Jordanian efforts at the time), first, to the United Nations, then to the United States, with only Great Britain on its side, as the Security Council became bitterly divided on this issue.
With the initiative placed entirely in its hands, the United States has been conducting the conflict with a lot of rancor and personal vendetta, bombarding sites in Iraq almost on daily basis, for over two years now; blocking any move by the Security Council to lift the sanctions, or to lift from the sanctions an equal amount to the Iraqi compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. The pretext the US has regularly been using is that it wants to prevent Iraq from replenishing its arsenals of weapons of mass destruction away from the eyes of the weapons inspectors after the collapse of the inspection regime following the air strikes on Iraq in December 1998; and to preclude any Iraqi attack against its neighbors.
Any successful Arab effort to accomplish the desired Iraqi-Kuwaiti-Saudi reconciliation will withdraw the initiative from the US hands; and with it any pretext for continued aggression, as the “threatened” neighbors may then absolve the US of the responsibility to protect them.
While this is not going to be easy, it should not be miraculous either, bearing in mind the great benefits it will generate. It does require two major steps from Iraq, one towards Kuwait in the form of a genuine and convincing commitment that any plans for changing the political map of the region or threatening the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Kuwait should be abandoned and buried for ever. There is no place for such ideas in the present day international relations and norms of lawful behavior between states. Such a commitment, will no doubt, pave the way for dealing, genuinely and positively, with all the remaining issues of the conflict between Iraq and its Gulf neighbors.
The second major step is required from Iraq towards the Security Council. The present deadlock is being maintained due to the Iraqi stubborn refusal to cooperate with the council within the framework of its Resolution 1284, against the good advice of the friends of Iraq in the council itself. It should be recognized, though, that Iraq has valid grievances against the application of double standards by the United Nations and the Security Council, and against the behavior of UNSCOM and the arms inspectors who strayed from their specific mission into spying and fabricating crises, convenient, but unrelated to the issue itself, to the purposes and intents of the powers whose not-anymore-undeclared aim is to topple the regime in Iraq, not only to ensure the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.
Yet the Iraqi claim that it did fulfill its commitments, implemented the Security Council resolutions, destroyed its weapons and did not replace them, and that it does not harbor any intentions to threaten or attack its neighbors should be examined and authenticated by allowing at least a one-time-form of inspection, to be negotiated with the Security Council. It will also be very helpful if Iraq would intensify its dialogue, already started with the secretary general, and enlarge it to include the Security Council, since such a constructive dialogue will break the deadlock and initiate movement in the Security Council towards a final settlement, completing and complementing any reconciliation “already” achieved within the Arab context.
On the Palestinian side, the situation is highly perilous as the intensity of the Israeli oppressive military and economic measures is mounting beyond any comprehensible limits, causing merciless human tragedies, in flagrant, reckless violation of international law. The deceiving, misleading and distorted message which Sharon is presenting to the US and the UN is bound to further block any possible helpful action that might be considered by either. The Israeli premier is simply reducing the entire problem to an issue of a “poor Israel” whose security is threatened and endangered by Palestinian violence; and declaring that he will head straight to the negotiating table once that violence has been stopped by President Arafat.
Sharon did not say, and none of his hosts bothered to ask him, what he intended to offer to the Palestinians and how he would deal with the final status issues, the occupation, the settlement, the refugees, the borders, Jerusalem and the future; and why he wants now another open-ended interim agreement; and on what terms of reference he would be negotiating. None of these, and many more relevant questions, were raised with Sharon, because his formula was perhaps more convenient as a non-action prescription for his unwilling hosts in the US and the UN.
That leaves the summit with the stern task of putting an end to this ongoing disaster by addressing the very roots of the conflict and not only dressing its symptoms. The summit should send a loud and clear message to the Israelis that they cannot, and should not continue to take their existing relations with the Arab world for granted. Israel should hear from the summit that it should not be allowed to use existing peace treaties, and agreements, with the Arabs, which are meant to be steps towards a comprehensive peace, as cover for continuing its aggression and expansion in the Arab lands and at the expense of Arab rights.
The Arabs at the summit should have no reason not to emphasize their right to use any means available to them, and there are many, to defend their rights and their integrity. It is absolutely legitimate, right and normal, in the present day international relations, that the interest of the other nations in the Arab world can only be guaranteed if these nations stand by the right causes, and only the right causes of the Arabs. There should be an immediate end to the era when the wealth of the Arabs is constantly pillaged by the very “friends and allies” whose firm support for Israel was never in doubt.
Action is required by the summit if the steady deterioration is to be arrested and, hopefully, reversed.
That, and that alone, serves the very vital interests of our great nation and creates the right climate for true peace.
The writer is former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations. He contributed this article to the Jordan Times.