False sense of satisfaction

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In a clearly coordinated and deliberately timed move, both the US and Europe have acted to push Sharon and his extreme right-wing government to restrain its brutal operations and abandon its military adventures to re-occupy Palestinian territories. The US and Europe only took action when Israeli cruelty had reached a peak without achieving the desired result of breaking the will of the Palestinian resistance. The West realised that Sharon’s “brilliant” plan — given the green light by Washington — to marginalise Arafat, humiliate the Palestinian Authority and degrade the Palestinians was beginning to have the opposite effect alongside an unprecedented surge in the number of Israeli casualties.

It would be naive and simplistic to assume that the American position had changed due to lobbying efforts by the Arabs, or because the US president suddenly realised the error of his policy of permitting Israel free rein towards the Palestinians. President Bush and his administration are not backtracking on their policy towards the Middle East; the resolution that the US had the UN Security Council issue is nothing more than an international “vision” that may or may not come to pass. And President Bush was quick to add that he would not hesitate to use the US’s veto in the future if the resolution proves harmful to Israel.

The Bush administration is only urging Israel to stop its bloody operations because the US has a new target. The US has already sufficiently cowed Arab countries in the aftermath of 11 September when it was pursuing those responsible for the attacks on Washington and New York. To attack Iraq, the US knows it needs to calm the situation in the Middle East and gain a measure of Arab support, even if only tacit. Obtaining support for a military campaign against Iraq was, in fact, the main aim behind Cheney’s tour.

The European Union’s position is no different from that of the US. The Europeans remained silent throughout the 18 months of Israeli atrocities, during which much of the EU- funded infrastructure was destroyed. And as Palestinian fatalities mounted into the hundreds, delegations of European ministers and officials came to and left the region, merely issuing a few statements.

The only move the Europeans made was to support UN Security Council Resolution 1397 asking Israel to withdraw its forces — a demand that is long overdue and, at present, worthless. Besides being devoid of any means of guaranteeing Israeli implementation and of any stipulations requiring Israel to compensate the Palestinians for the damage done to infrastructure, the resolution is no more than a European “vision” that goes hand in hand with the American one.

Despite these “visions,” which are essentially pleas to Israel to abide by the rules of the US game, Sharon is refusing to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, mediated by US envoy General Zinni, except while Israeli tanks are permitted to continue to blockade Palestinian cities. Meanwhile, Arafat is still under house arrest and it remains unclear whether he will be allowed to attend the Beirut summit.

In the face of these developments, Arab countries have been lulled into a false sense of satisfaction, having viewed the American decision as a positive sign, the European Union statement as a significant move and the Saudi initiative as a way out of the crisis. Nobody expects Sharon to change his position — something that the Palestinians were probably the first to realise. And the Palestinians are only too well aware that the peace that the US is waving before them is merely an illusion.

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