The urgent mission for the Arab Foreign Ministers is to have the American administration make Israel stop the aggression

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President Bush asked the Arab countries to exert pressure on President Yasser Arafat to take practical and firm measures to stop the terrorism aimed at Israel. The American officials (Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney) repeated this American position following President Arafat’s speech in which he called on all Palestinians to stop armed operations for the sake of higher Palestinian national interests.

Despite the fact that the White House considered President Arafat’s speech constructive, the White House, U.S. State Department and National Security Council demanded that President Arafat follow his words with actions. The Israelis did the same.

In the aftermath of the speech and reactions to it, the American and Israeli officials completely forgot the terrorism of the state of Israel that has been carried out by its occupation forces against the Palestinian people for thirty-four years, and that has witnessed a bloody, destructive and serious escalation during 2001. They did not at all link the practical implementation of President Arafat’s speech to stopping the Israeli aggression and the siege that the Israeli occupation forces are imposing on the entire Palestinian people. Sharon and other Israeli officials announced that the Israeli occupation army’s operations against the Palestinians would continue and would not stop.

These clear American and Israeli positions leave no room for softening the tragedy that the Palestinians are living, or the grave risks they are facing now and which will increase with the year 2002.

What responsibilities does this difficult situation lay on the Arab Foreign Ministers who have decided to convene on Thursday (tomorrow) to study the dangerous situation and draw up a plan of Arab action based on that study.

We do not want to list and repeat the obvious facts already known by the Arab Foreign Ministers and their leaders, we are sure that they are fully aware of the facts. We will, however, concentrate on an urgent pivotal mission based on the Palestinian Presidential speech, and the American and Israeli reactions to it, without going into the issue of defining who the criminal is and who the victim is, because this too is known.

We say that the United States, Israel and even Europe demand that President Arafat stop the operations and arrest those who plan and carry them out (especially the suicide operations). President Arafat announced in his speech that the Palestine National Authority would not allow anyone to sabotage the National Palestinian project, and that it demands that everyone respect the cease-fire and vows punishment for violators.

The Palestine Authority decided to carry out a series of practical measures consistent with this clear announcement. The violence the Palestinian areas are witnessing is not, however, violence between the factions of one side, the Palestinian side, it is violence between the Israeli and Palestinian sides (once again we say this without defining which side is the aggressor, and which side is merely defending itself because this is known).

The Israelis, however, as we mentioned, confirmed through their Prime Minister that they will continue in their military attacks against the Palestinians, under the banner of fighting terrorism. Indeed, the Israeli occupation forces carried out assassinations, bombings and shootings immediately following President Arafat’s speech. Some armed Palestinians fired at Israeli vehicles and military posts.

The Israeli occupation forces killed three Palestinians immediately following President Yasser Arafat’s speech in which he announced a decision to stop all armed actions. Among the dead were a child, a member of the security service and a Hamas activist whose house was stormed and his wife and children held by special Israeli troops (disguised as Arabs). This indicates that Israel is continuing in its aggression and does not care about world public opinion or about President Arafat’s announcement.

As usual, Israel and its allies will ignore the fact that the Israeli aggression generates reactions, and will point to the shootings in which armed Palestinians injured three Israelis as being a continuation of terrorist operations, will accuse President Arafat of being responsible for them, and will cast doubt on President Yasser Arafat’s credibility and ability. This is a clear example of the long series of Israeli aggression, assassinations and reoccupying of Palestinian areas that have caused Palestinian reactions that have contributed to widening the circle of violence in the region.

The Americans want actions to follow the words of President Arafat because they, according to their announcement, see that President Arafat’s speech indicates a good and constructive path. So how can President Arafat follow his words with actions when Israel continues in its aggression against the Palestinians, continues to tighten the siege on Palestinian cities and villages and continues to infiltrate areas under the control of the Palestine Authority?

Answering this question is the big responsibility the Arab Foreign Ministers must shoulder. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced in a press conference that the Palestinians should expect an Israeli response if they put an end to terrorism. He stated that the American vision of the Middle East solution still stands, and that the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations is the first practical step. The Arabs want the Americans to follow their words with actions, not just issue statements. For the equation to be balanced, and for practical tangible steps to begin, the United States must do as the European Union and the United Nations did and demand that Israel stop the aggression so that the PA and Yasser Arafat may be able to carry out actions to implement words. Javier Solana asked Israel to stop its aggression and its military operations, as did Larsen the UN Secretary General’s representative in the Middle East, and as did Moscow in a statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

If the violence is ongoing between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, and if the Palestinian side has pledged to stop the violence, then how can calm prevail if the Israeli side continues to fire at and attack the Palestinian people and institutions? This is the question that the Arab Foreign Ministers must ask the American administration. They must demand that the American administration make Sharon stop the attacks, lift the siege and provide an opportunity for calming the situation and reigning in the violence.

Following President Arafat’s speech, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced that the Palestine Authority must be given time to fulfil its pledges to cease firing and punish the violators. Peres saw that this required halting the Israeli military operations. If this is the Israeli Foreign Minister’s position, then why don’t the Arab Foreign Ministers use their influence with Washington to firmly demand that Sharon be made to stop firing immediately, and not adopt Sharon’s stand rejecting a cease-fire and continuing in attacks against the Palestinian people?

This request takes on weight and importance in light of the American administration’s, the European Union’s and the United Nations’ confirmation that the Palestine Authority, and its President Yasser Arafat, is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and was democratically elected by them.

We say that it takes on special importance because not committing Sharon to a cease-fire means only giving him the go ahead to fire at the Palestine Authority and its institutions. This contradicts America’s declared position regarding Yasser Arafat and the Palestine National Authority.

The other important aspect is that giving Sharon the go ahead to continue in his aggression against the Palestinian people will mean calm will not prevail – this in turn means that the political process will not begin in light of the American-Israeli condition for beginning this political process: absolute calm. It will follow that the American administration does not want to implement its vision of peace in the Middle East based on a political solution that guarantees the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the state of Israel.

This is the logical sequence of the American administration’s position if it remains as it is – demanding that President Arafat put an end to the firing while allowing Sharon to continue firing.

Thus, it is the duty of the Arab Foreign Ministers to work immediately on finding a solution to this dilemma – the imbalance in the American position. In my opinion, this is possible, especially if we take into consideration the fact that Russia, the European Union and the United Nations support committing Israel to stopping its aggression against the Palestinian people, and to implementing a cease-fire in parallel with the cease-fire announced by President Arafat.

Coordinating this Arab effort with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations will undoubtedly increase the power of the Arab demand that the American administration make Israel stop firing. This is the urgent mission of the Arab Foreign Ministers.

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

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