The secrets of Al Aqaba

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The Israeli government’s reply to President Bush’s decision to appoint John Wolf, Assistant Secretary of State, as head of the American intelligence team that will monitor progress under the road map was quick to come. It materialized in the attempt to assassinate Abdel Aziz Al Rantissi, one of the political leaders of Hamas.

This assassination attempt, despite its failure, will give birth (according to Israeli security organs) to Palestinian retaliation providing Sharon with all the excuses he needs to delay implementing the road map and to refuse to execute American demands. The Israeli government had also assassinated (after Al Aqaba summit) two Hamas leaders near Nablus. Despite Palestinian efforts to prevent retaliation, Sharon went on to issue orders to assassinate Abdel Aziz Al Rantissi. He knew that the Palestinian response would be massive, and would provide him with all the playing cards he needs until next September, when the American presidential elections campaign is launched.

Bush made several mistakes in the past. However, this time, and during his visit to the Middle East, he made great mistakes. Elliot Abrams, dispatched by President Bush to hold talks with Israeli officials before Sharm Al Sheikh and Al Aqaba summits did not offer Bush good advice. The reports Abrams submitted serve Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and not American interests in this highly strategic region for the United States, especially energy-wise.

The aim behind President Bush’s brief tour in the Middle East was to safeguard his country’s interests, now that Iraq is neutralized, even though reports reveal (at least) that the situation in Iraq is much more complex than what the US administration thought. Handling the situation in Iraq seems much more complicated than preventing crime in Washington D.C. Resistance in Iraq will increase and spread for a multitude of reasons, namely because occupation must be resisted.

Iraqi internal conflicts, whether religious or national, are very complicated. Americans will not be able to solve them easily. President Bush hoped that his quick tour in the Middle East and that holding Sharm Al sheikh and Al Aqaba summits will help him control the Middle East (before the situation in Iraq becomes more serious). He wanted to take advantage of the destruction of Iraq and American hegemony over it to attain his aims. He used the peace process to give the international opinion the impression that the US administration applies a single standard in the area, and to provide cover for what was done in Iraq and what would be done in the region in the future, in order to totally control its riches, its markets and its strategic position.

However, President Bush (because of advice from Elliot Abrams, a Zionist supportive of Sharon and a high-rank official in Middle East affairs in the National Security Council) made a great mistake: once the Palestinian Authority approved the road map (with reservations and against its will), President Bush did not insist that Sharon (who received Bush’s support for the killing of Palestinians and the demolishing of their homes for over 2 years and a half) declare his acceptance of the road map, the name given to President Bush’s plan for peace in the area.

In fact, Sharon did not declare, whether before or after the two summits his acceptance of the road map. Moreover, the bigger mistake committed by Bush is that he bit into (maybe out of ignorance) Elliot Abrams advice that the road map must not be considered as one package, but rather that the two parties, Israelis and Palestinians, are to consider it item by item, if not paragraph by paragraph. This is indeed what Abou Mazen said during the Press Conference last Monday in Ramallah. Thus, Elliot Abrams succeeded once again, together with his team who planned the destruction of Irak (and is planning strikes against Syria and Iran once President Bush is reelected) in convincing Bush to adopt an Israeli alternative plan to the road map.

Unfortunately, even Palestinian negotiators fell in this trap, and are reaping the results of Al Aqaba summit, during which the road map package was transformed into a series of items in separate paragraphs. Even international efforts might fail in making both parties move from item to item. This, my friends, is how Sharon destroyed peace.

President Bush made mistakes, and so did the Palestinian Prime minister when he accepted to transform the one package road map into several packages. No matter what Palestinian ministers say to defend their position in Al Aqaba, a huge mistake was made.

The one package road map should never have been transformed into several packages that the Israeli government would control -and hinder- more easily. I believe it is vital for the Palestinian government to review Al Akaba summit by sending a high-rank team to Washington. They should insist on the road map “as a package”, and not as separate items and on simultaneous parallel measures from both parties within this package.

Palestinian negotiators in Sharm Al Sheikh and Al Aqaba handled issues related to implementation mechanisms very naively. They seemed more keen on shaking President Bush’s hand and on attending these summits than on anything else.

Therefore, we reiterate that Palestinians are neither happy nor satisfied with what took place in Sharm Al Sheikh and Al Aqaba, and that they want real solutions to their sufferings. The only way through and the only choice possible is freedom and independence. The government which was granted the confidence of the “legislative council” has to toil to achieve this. Palestinians will resist occupation no matter what the price is. If this new government is more interested in Protocols than in substance and if it doesn’t implement the road map as a package, then that government will have to face dire consequences even if it receives the support of President Arafat.

Let me go back now to the assassination attempt against Abdel Aziz Al Rantissi.

I believe this attempt proves the desperation of the Israelis, and might have been the final blow to the peace process.

Why now? Why not have attempted to assassinate him last year or two years ago?

The timing was political. The Israeli government is seeking to provoke Palestinian reactions because it does not want peace. It does not want to let go of the West Bank and it does not want to dismantle settlements.

But what about President Bush’s personal and official commitment to the implementation of the road map?

President Bush wagged his fingers at the Arabs, but seems to have forgotten to wag them at Mr. Sharon.

Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to Yasser Arafat.

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