American Groping

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Since the media began talking about the return of Mr. Zinni to the Middle East, the sentence ” pressure on Arafat” has been repeated so many times that it became inevitably the main é if not the only- significant synonym of the U.S. envoy’s mission. If this is not enough to disturb the cold-minded backbenchers of the American Middle-East policy, the public opinion should be reminded though that ultimately the former Marine general is, in that perspective expected to play the role of an Israeli ambassador! Has he been sent to the region with another kind of agenda and another perspective? Then, he will be very skilful if he acts in consequence.

Mr. Zinni had been confused once when Sharon “thanked” him for his efforts. Unless he does not learn from his last experiences, the “pressure” he came to put on Arafat had been instilled into his own mind by Sharon’s refusal to cooperate. Now, we are told that he came back to try again what he had already tried vainly! Just let us ask what is the problem of the Bush administration? Is it Arafat or Sharon? Is it both? Or is it terrorism? Well, today they say Mr. Bush is decided to fight all the terrorists everywhere. Fine! The Arab governments have also announced that they are willing to join the American’s efforts for the same purpose. As a few among them do not consider themselves as allies or potential allies in an economic and political partnership with the Western nations, we should normally see them ranging alongside the “boysé, either in Afghanistan or elsewhere. But this is not what happened. And one of the causes of this failure is psychological rather than political, albeit we cannot really dissociate them.

I mean that there is a frame of mind presently prevailing in the West, which is not easy for the Arabs to cope with. I know that Mr. Zinni went back to Israel and the Palestinian territories with the idea of succeeding in implementing a cease- fire, in order to resume the political process. And everybody knows that the success of such a delicate mission is far from being granted in these hard times. Indeed, there is a chance. And if it is the only chance remaining on 99 repeated failures, it has to be tried, honestly and seriously. However, to put more assets in his pocket, Mr. Zinni has to translate on the field what Mr. Boucher, State Department’s spokesman, expressed in his comment about this new mission: ” It’s not a question of endorsing one or the other side’s criteria or ideas. It’s a matter of working with both sides to get them to take steps that can effectively end the violence.”

Both sides! We are agreeing. There is no misunderstanding about that.

Still, while analyzing the same topics, many of our colleagues thought that the second visit of Zinni was meant only to pressure Arafat. And when we push the exploration of the same question further, we may hardly say that they are misleading their readers. For in what consists the pressure? We are told that the main purpose of Zinni is to” focus the Palestinian Authority on combating terror and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure “.

That would work only at a condition: Sharon’s agreement to withdraw his troops completely from the Palestinian areas and to stop his slow nibbling of the West bank. Indeed, he understood what is required of him. That’s why he ordered a partial redeployment at the eve of Zinni’s visit. But when asked about that gesture, Arafat declared that it was only meant to deceive the American envoy. A make-believe of some kind, that is!

Nonetheless, even with the complete fulfillment of this condition, Mr. Zinni would not be able- alone – to ease the tensions accumulated since about 15 months. This is not only a security problem, as some people are prone to believe. This is also é more than ever é a political struggle that requires all the resources of good-willed men. Unluckily, Sharon is not in such a disposition of mind, if he ever had been! Moreover, the whole atmosphere in the region is poisoned with fear and obscure threats. Nobody today in the Arab world is able to say whether the West is fighting against terrorism or against Islam! More significant is the fact that even laic, leftist, or liberal intellectuals that have always condemned radicalism in the region, find it hard to justify the American-Israeli easy combination between terrorism and resistance movements against the Zionist occupation, such as Hamas. The message of those intellectuals is: Stop the Israeli occupation, thus you will nullify any claim of organizations such as Hamas, Jihad, Hizbullah.

Those Arab intellectuals do not understand why it is so easy for the West to oust Saddam from Kuwait, and to bomb Afghanistan and to overthrow the Taliban, whereas nobody in the West sounds ready to stop the daily Israeli attacks on the Palestinians. Why Israeli crimes are called “self-defense”, and Palestinian self-defense is called “terrorism”?

But obviously, the Arab elites are not alone to see these distortions in the Western mind. The results of the last survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and the International Herald Tribune suggest that a change is presently occurring in the West. From 275 interviews with influential people in politics, media, business, culture and government, emerged a new picture of the public opinion, which can be summed up as follows:

A huge gulf of disagreement exists between American elites and opinion leaders in other parts of the world about the causes of terrorism and the sources of resentment towards the U.S.

Opinion leaders in most regions say U.S. policies are believed to be a principal cause of the Sept. 11 attacks.

While they recognize that U.S. power is resented, opinion leaders in the United States believe America’s support of Israel is also a big problem.

There is a broad consensus among elites that if the U.S. pressured Israel to create a Palestinian state, terrorism would be reduced. 67% of American leaders subscribe to that view, as do 74% of those overseas.

Now, when considering the Pew Global Attitudes Project’s statements in respect of America’s image, the first remark is perhaps: If the Bush administration is not convincing the American and the Western elites, how would it persuade the Arab and the Muslim intelligentsia? Indeed, it is not enough to send soldiers and jets to bomb Afghanistan, in order to end or even to reduce terrorism. Neither it is very useful to pressure Arafat as if he is the cause of all the Israeli é American troubles. The true problem is elsewhere. It is in the inability of the American administration to recognize what the majority of the elites é not only the Western- acknowledge as long- standing mistakes of the Middle-East American policy. It is the American leadership that is suffering from this situation, not only the friends and the allies.

What is perhaps more grave is the fact that after the Sep. 11 attacks, the relations between the USA and some of its Arab and Muslim allies have gone so tense that the worse is feared. The distortions and the ill-intentioned stereotypes about the Arabs in the West are not born in the aftermath of Sep. 11. They have always been there, hidden or declared. Scholars and media commentators have analyzed a lot of them. Thus, we are not discovering a new Western mind, but rather unveiling what have been shamefully discarded from it, as indecent and unfit to our modern times as well as to the values of the Western society itself. Yet, when we see how some people react towards Islam today, and when we see how some media treat their Arab allies, we wonder whether those old, dark stereotypes have ever disappeared.

That’s why the American groping for peace in the Middle East sounds so dubious to many people out there. Actually, many Arab observers agree that the American administration is not serious in its so-called quest for peace. For them, the Americans are only trying to gain time in order to make Israel still more powerful in a regional order dominated by fear and injustice.

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

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