US Secretary of State Colin Powell is to arrive in Israel and Palestine on Friday following directives from President George W. Bush (maybe even following “cries for help” from John Wolf who had to face numerous complications and tricks played by Israeli officials to impede the road map which President Bush wants implemented rapidly).
US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is also expected in Israel, Palestine and other countries in the region next week to follow up on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s efforts to push Israel and the Palestinians towards peace and to prove to all parties that the US is serious in implementing the road map. John Wolf and the monitoring team will probably remain in the region until after Rice’s visit. Then they will leave to Washington with positive reports, hopefully.
This is the first time since George W. Bush was elected that the Middle East witnesses such an American interest in the implementation of a political settlement (which might bring peace). However, at the same time, the Middle East is viewing this unprecedented American interest with fear and anticipation. All trust in US intentions has indeed evaporated since Bush backed without reserve Sharon’s ferocious, bloody and criminal attacks against Palestinians.
The peoples of the whole region observe the situation and hope for some optimism. Needless to say that this optimism depends on the existence of an American serious will and on whether or not the US is to use its influence to convince the Israeli government that time has run out and that Israel must put an end to occupation and withdraw to positions held before the 4th of June 1967. It also depends on the right for Palestinians to live in freedom, in an independent and fully sovereign state.
And these exactly are the stakes.
Before Colin Powell arrives in the region on Friday, Condoleezza Rice called to Washington the head of the Israeli Security Service, Avi Dichter, and Sharon’s Chief of Staff Dov Weisglass. She formally asked them to provide the necessary engagements to start implementing a cease-fire, mainly to put an end to military operations and assassinations and to put forward a time table for an Israeli withdrawal to the lines of the 28th of September 2000. Condoleezza Rice is to present these engagements to the Egyptian Mediators who will issue the Cairo Declaration in which Palestinian factions will state their approval of what President Arafat demanded, i.e. to stop attacks against Israel and to declare a truce.
The problem is that all Israeli officials who meet with Egyptians, Palestinians or Americans have no say in matters and no decision making powers (these powers belong solely to Sharon and Mofaz). Sharon uses this ruse to gain time as he believes that in September (when the US Presidential elections campaign is launched), the US Administration will be busy at home, which means that the American pressure exerted upon Israel will cease. It seems that the White house has understood this trick, maybe from reports submitted by John Wolf, the New US Middle East envoy to monitor progress under the road map.
Thus, the White House decided to:
dispatch Colin Powell to Israel and Palestine, and then to
dispatch Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor to the region.
give orders to the head of the External Relations Committee in Congress (Rep.) to promote the presence of international forces in the region (even though the Europeans seem to believe the moment is not appropriate for this yet).
convene the quartet in Amman (Jordan), close to the conflict area. This is a very clear and direct message to Israel that the US administration is capable -if it wishes to do so- to activate the UN, the EU and the Russian Federation’s role (something that the Israelis do not desire of course).
the US State Department informed Mr. Kirtsir, its ambassador to Israel (known for his bias towards Sharon), to tell Sharon that Bush is very serious and that Israel must respect the road map because it serves US interests.
Powell even asked Arafat (despite the decision not to consider him as a counterpart) to make more efforts…
All these facts clearly indicate that the US administration is this time serious in implementing the road map, and in moving the peace process forward.
I believe that the American administration is now in need of a victory in the peace arena to cover for its “bloody victory” in the war arena. President Bush wants the American elector to see him as a balanced man using the same standards when it comes to issues such as liberty, democracy and independence. At the same time, he wants to respect the engagements he made towards his Arab allies before the war against Iraq. President Bush suggested in Sharm Al Sheikh the creation of a new order in the Middle East. This order will have an economic component (the common market, with open links with the US), a security component (an anti-terrorism treaty), and a cultural component (changing curricula and promoting openness and democracy in the Middle East). What President Bush suggested is mainly a plan to control the Middle East (with its riches, its markets and its culture) and to minimize the role played by Europeans and other countries.
Bush also proposed in Sharm Al Sheikh the acceptance by Arab States of Israel as member in this new club and the normalization of relations with it as a first step. In order for Bush and his administration to achieve these goals, they must start implementing the road map to prove to all countries their seriousness and ability to respect their engagements. They will also need help from the Palestinians and the Israelis, that is why President Bush called on all countries (especially Europe, Arab States and Russia) to assist him in this mission.
President Bush might (if Israeli obstructions continue) take other steps in order to activate the quartet. He might do what he did with Iraq, i.e. to extract a UN Security Council resolution. This is exactly what Colin Powell paved the road for during his talks with Kofi Annan last week (it has become a habit for the US to resort to the UN when its interests are best served this way and to marginalize it when this is not the case). It also seems that the Israeli lobby and the media in the US become useless when American intentions are different from the Israeli ones and that the leaders of the Jewish American Lobby first try to safeguard their interests as Americans, despite their support of Israel, when the US President requests they do so. Congress leaders cannot appear (in the end) as if they put Israeli interests before their own national ones.
The coming days will prove to which extent the US is serious in pushing the peace process forward and in implementing it. And I say implementing it because we have reached unprecedented levels of despair as the US Administration is all the time yielding to Israel (maybe because this used to serve American interests). But the Middle East has become now “An Exclusive American Region” and there is no more need to use Israel to safeguard American interests.
This means that creating a fully sovereign independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital has become an American interest. Will the Israeli Prime Minister ever understand this? And will President Bush act like Dwight Eisenhower did back in 1956?
Palestinians yearn for peace. They long to build their independent and sovereign state, to live in freedom, to enjoy their human and democratic rights, to safeguard their dignity and pride and to develop their country both economically and culturally. They are the people of the great Canaanite culture. They will not accept occupation, humiliation or oppression. They will fight no matter for how long.
Ever since the occupation started in 1967, Israeli governments killed 149.782 Palestinians, not to mention the wounded, the disabled and all the destruction that has befallen Palestine. Since 2000, the Israelis killed in the West bank and Gaza 3092 Palestinians (563 under the age of 18) and wounded 45.111 others.
Nevertheless, the Palestinians will not falter. The entire world, and especially President Bush, must understand that they aspire for liberty and independence. This does not mean “Either us or the occupation”. It means “We shall stay and the occupation shall cease”.
It also means that Palestinian factions must take into account the National Palestinian interests above all and to give peace a chance.
The Palestinian people will not submit, even if they sign a truce. Stopping suicide attacks gives the American Administration a chance to prove just how serious it is. Not doing so only provides it with a pretext to avoid its responsibilities.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to Yasser Arafat.