Arafat Deserted; Region Boiling
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Arafat Deserted; Region Boiling

MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - January 25, 2002:

ARAB "Leaders" Cower before U.S. threats and Israeli might

MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 25 January 2002: The Arab "leaders" having deserted Yasser Arafat, as well as the Palestinian people. The terrible weakness and divisions of what is known as "the Arab world" are more visible than ever now. The Saudi regime is shaking; the Egyptian police-state is bankrupt; tensions are growing in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq...the list goes on. Meanwhile, the "crusade", now renamed the "campaign", continues and U.S. Special Forces and clandestine CIA squads are making their way around the region as the "war against terrorism" expands and the Israelis prepare to enforce their will.



JERUSALEM, Jan. 23 — Ariel Sharon had just become Israel's foreign minister when he arrived in Maryland in October 1998 for talks to salvage the Middle East peace process.

Through nine days of marathon negotiations that in the end produced a modest agreement, Mr. Sharon scrupulously held to a personal principle: No matter how much the American mediators grumbled, he never once shook the hand of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

The enmity is deep between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat, and it has gathered strength across decades of a personal struggle that expresses the darkest national fears and suspicions of their two peoples.

It is Mr. Sharon who, against the odds, has the upper hand now. As the prime minister of Israel, he dispatched the tanks that have locked Mr. Arafat into his official compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah since early December.

The peace agreements that Mr. Sharon opposed and that Mr. Arafat signed are all but dead. The Bush administration and other governments are lending tacit or explicit support to his campaign to isolate the Palestinian leader. Israel's targeted killings of Palestinian militants and invasions of Palestinian- controlled areas, operations that once drew strong protests from the Bush administration, now receive little comment.

Despite decades as one of Israel's most polarizing figures, Mr. Sharon has managed to sustain a unity government with broad national support. Some moderate members of his coalition sometimes criticize his tactics, but they have ultimately endorsed them. The most dangerous political threat to Mr. Sharon's leadership has come from his right, and that has subsided lately.

If, as Mr. Sharon argues, Mr. Arafat is responsible for all attacks on Israelis, then it is partly to the Palestinian leader that Mr. Sharon owes his election and his subsequent political and diplomatic success.

As a boy, on the farm where he grew up before Israel existed as a state, Mr. Sharon carried a club to ward off possible Arab intruders. As a teenager, he served with the pre- state underground, and he went on to fight in all of Israel's wars. He never wavered in his belief that Israel could not relax its guard against its Arab neighbors.

"The simple fact is, the Arabs don't recognize our right to exist in our homeland," Mr. Sharon recently told a group of young people.

That message now resounds here with particular force, after 16 months of a conflict that came on the heels of Mr. Arafat's rejection of peace terms. Israelis viewed the peace offer as generous, but Palestinians considered it miserly. No better deal is likely anytime soon. The collapsing peace process took with it the Labor government of Ehud Barak and carried Mr. Sharon into office in a landslide.

A newspaper poll published last week said that 57 percent of Israelis approved of Mr. Sharon's performance overall. Only a third were dissatisfied.

These Israeli voters have given Mr. Sharon a rematch with his old adversary, after his previous pursuit of Mr. Arafat almost destroyed his career. To those who have followed the two leaders' turbulent lives, the present standoff parallels the confrontation they had 20 years ago in Beirut.

"The Lebanese war is the manifestation of this kind of quarrel or competition," said Uzi Benziman, author of the biography "Sharon: An Israeli Caesar." "This is the background to what is going on now."

The war was a disaster for both men. Mr. Sharon was defense minister when he directed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. The mission was presented to the public as limited, but within a week Israel was besieging Beirut. The government's goal was to install a friendly regime and destroy the Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization. That, the theory went, would help persuade Palestinians to accept Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

By late August 1982, Mr. Arafat was evacuating his men from Beirut. In February 1983, Mr. Sharon resigned his post after a commission of inquiry assigned him and others "indirect responsibility" for the massacre by Christian Phalangists of hundreds in two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila.

As was the case with Lebanon, Mr. Sharon has always been a man with a plan. He demonstrated that quality early in his career by conducting military operations described by some as audacious and others as brutal, and later by promoting settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an effort to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.

But for Israelis of the right and left, whether the prime minister actually has a long-term strategy for dealing with Mr. Arafat remains a mystery. Mr. Sharon has said that he has a plan but cannot divulge it.

"It's difficult for me to say," said Yuval Steinitz, a member of Parliament from the Likud Party and an expert on security, when asked if he could describe Mr. Sharon's strategy. "Tactically, I think that he was very successful. But you know, Arafat is an expert at escaping from difficult situations."

Senior Israeli military and political officials said that the strategy is to put so much pressure on Mr. Arafat that he either will act to crush violent Palestinian groups or be replaced by another leader.

For the moment, Mr. Sharon seems content to keep Mr. Arafat where he is. He has said Mr. Arafat will be free to leave Ramallah once he arrests the killers of Israel's tourism minister, shot dead on Oct. 17.

Although Mr. Sharon has said he would like to see a Palestinian state, his stated goal for negotiations is a "long-term interim agreement," which would postpone any final settlement. The current standoff is having a similar effect.

Mr. Arafat's own mistakes have greatly strengthened Mr. Sharon's position. After a series of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians in early December, fierce international criticism forced the Palestinian leader to declare a cease-fire and step up arrests of militants.

But as the cease-fire appeared to be taking hold, Israel on Jan. 4 announced the capture of a ship, under Palestinian command, smuggling 50 tons of weapons to the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials argued that Mr. Arafat was personally involved.

So far, the Bush administration has publicly confirmed the involvement only of senior officials in Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority. But on Jan. 9 Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned that "a heavy burden rests on Mr. Arafat to deal with these charges and to deal with the evidence as it comes forward."

Although he has detained one Palestinian official for questioning and has issued orders to detain two more, Mr. Arafat has so far given no such thorough accounting. Today, Secretary Powell called the Palestinian leader in Ramallah to say that he was still waiting. New York Times, 24 January



CAIRO, Jan. 23 — Yasir Arafat's virtual house arrest imposed by Israel has left him increasingly isolated, garnering few expressions of support from Arab allies.

The telephone in his compound does not ring much these days with calls from fellow Arab leaders. "I think they should call him daily because he is an Arab leader, an Arab leader under Israeli attack every minute," said Muhammad M. Sobeih, the Palestinian ambassador to the Arab League. "Some leaders phone, but some don't and we are waiting for more from the rest."

There are several reasons Arab leaders are keeping their distance, analysts and officials say.

Some countries, wary of acting in a way that might irk the United States, do not want to identify publicly with a man the Bush administration has largely shunned.

Others, sensing that a public campaign to help Mr. Arafat will go nowhere without American support, are avoiding highlighting their own impotence. Finally, after more than three decades of wheeling and dealing through the tumult of Arab politics, Mr. Arafat does not have a lot of friends.

Even in the face of Mr. Arafat's apparent humiliation by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, some countries that are usually staunch supporters of the Palestinians like Yemen, Algeria and Syria, have been largely silent about Mr. Arafat's fate.

Yemen has been mentioned as a possible target for American attacks on supporters of Al Qaeda, so it may not want to attract further American attention by making a public issue out of Mr. Arafat.

Syria has long been at odds with Mr. Arafat and provides offices for virtually every Palestinian opposition group. Syrian officials and Mr. Arafat argued vehemently at a December summit meeting of foreign ministers, diplomats here said. They said the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, suggested that Mr. Arafat's speech calling for an end to violence was a capitulation to Israeli demands, echoing his country's public stand.

Some support for the Palestinian leader has come from Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The government- owned news agencies in all three have reported recent phone calls between their leaders and Mr. Arafat.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt this week criticized the "humiliation" of Mr. Arafat by Israel, and he said Israel should abandon envisaging a solution to the violence that did not involve Mr. Arafat. In early December, the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, made a rare trip to Israel by a senior Egyptian official to emphasize the same point. This week, Mr. Maher suggested that the problem had to be solved in time to allow Mr. Arafat to attend the March summit meeting of Arab leaders in Beirut.

Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian planning minister, said contacts had also been made with the United States and Europe to allow Mr. Arafat to attend a meeting of Arab foreign ministers called by the king of Morocco on Friday.

Similar efforts were made in December for Mr. Arafat to attend a conference in Qatar, but Israel would not guarantee that he would be allowed to return.

Many Arab leaders want him to stay put because they worry that Mr. Sharon will close the door should he leave, prompting an even greater crisis. The State Department has yet to make its position clear.

The condition that Israel set for allowing Mr. Arafat to travel again is the arrest of the Palestinians who assassinated an Israeli minister last fall. But there is a widespread sense that the measure is an effort to force Mr. Arafat from power. The Israelis feel that they have Washington's support as a result of American anger over a shipment of arms that Israel says was intended for the Palestinians.

Arab officials say the isolation of Mr. Arafat is a way of finally burying the Oslo accords opposed by Mr. Sharon. "Sharon wants to destroy the Palestinian Authority, to destroy the Palestinian leadership," said one Arab official. "It will take 10 years to reconstitute, by which time Israel can gobble up all the occupied territories and give back just half."

Arab officials point out that in addition to parking tanks outside Mr. Arafat's compound to ensure that he does not travel, the Israelis have been chipping away at the symbols of his authority — wrecking police stations, the airport, the harbor and offices of the Palestinian radio.

"Containing Arafat like this and at the same time asking him to control violence is illogical," said Muhammad al-Adwan, the Jordanian minister of state for political affairs. "How can he control any kind of violence when his hands are tied, when he has not freedom of movement, when his police and infrastructure are being destroyed?"

Many Arab officials say the United States has erred by not even remarking on Mr. Arafat's siege and by extension the conditions under which most Palestinians live. These officials argue that the American stance only allows the Arab-Israeli violence to escalate dangerously. They say it is a curious method of trying to curb extremism.

"Whether we like him or not, he is the leader of the Palestinians," said Ahmad al-Rubai, a liberal member of Parliament in Kuwait, where Mr. Arafat has never been forgiven for backing Saddam Hussein after he invaded in 1990. Even so, Mr. Rubai noted, allowing the government of Mr. Sharon to weaken him or even drive him from power will only open the door to more violent groups.

"If they kick Arafat out of power God knows who will lead the Palestinians," said Mr. Rubai. "We already have one extremist in power, Sharon, so I hope we don't have extremists on the other side too." New York Times, 24 January


By Hadeel Wahdan

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Associated Press - 25 January) - A decision by the United States to cut ties with the Palestinian Authority would ``cause an earthquake'' in the Middle East, an adviser to Yasser Arafat warned Friday after the Bush administration said it was reviewing its ties to the Palestinian leader.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh's comments came after President Bush leveled his strongest criticism of Arafat yet, saying in Washington that he was ``very disappointed'' over a weapons-smuggling scandal. The White House was contemplating its next move, including suspending contacts or demanding Arafat guarantee to make arrests in the smuggling episode.

Instead of punishing the Palestinians, Abu Rdeneh said Bush should take measures against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and not receive him at the White House. Sharon is to meet with Bush there on Feb. 7.

Bush focused on a boatload of Iranian weapons that were intercepted earlier this month in the Red Sea and were apparently headed for the Palestinian territories. ``That's enhancing terror,'' Bush said after reviewing U.S. ties to Arafat with his senior advisers.

A U.S. decision to cut ties with the Palestinian Authority ``will cause an earthquake in the region that no one will be able to stop,'' Abu Rdeneh said. ``What is needed is to isolate Sharon,'' he said.

Arafat, who has been confined by Israel to his West Bank headquarters in the town of Ramallah for the past week, has not commented on the U.S. policy shift.

In an interview with Greek TV earlier Friday, Arafat accused the world of ignoring the plight of the Palestinians. ``We are the only people under occupation all over the world. Can this be accepted internationally?''

Abu Rdeneh insisted the Palestinian Authority had no ties to the shipment of 50 tons of weapons, including missiles. However, Bush linked the smuggling to the Palestinian leader. ``Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror,'' Bush said.

The head of Israel's dovish opposition and two leading peace activists, meanwhile, appealed to Secretary of State Colin Powell not to cut ties with Arafat.

``We are deeply concerned that delegitimizing or boycotting the Palestinian Authority, or even the Palestinian Authority's collapse, will lead to a further deterioration and escalation of violence and be a disaster for our region, its peoples and the universal fight against terror,'' said a letter by opposition leader Yossi Sarid, former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Tzali Reshef, head of the Peace Now group.

Also Friday, King Mohammed VI of Morocco criticized Israel's travel ban on Arafat, saying Israel is ``pushing the entire region toward the unknown.''

The Moroccan monarch accused Sharon of ``torpedoing'' peace initiatives and ``undermining the very foundations of dialogue and negotiation.''

Mohammed is hosting a summit of foreign ministers of the Al Quds (Jerusalem) Committee, created in 1979 to preserve the Arab-Muslim character of Jerusalem. It was the first time since the committee's founding that Arafat has not been able to attend one of its summits.


LONDON — World Tribune, 22 January: Arab diplomatic sources said not one Arab leader has telephoned Arafat over the last five weeks since Israeli restrictions have trapped him in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The sources said the apparent boycott involves heads of state including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah.

Palestinian diplomats, including the Palestinian envoy to the Arab League, Mohammed Sbeih, have confirmed the boycott on Arafat, Middle East Newsline reported. A London-based, Palestinian-owned daily quoted a PA official as saying that Mubarak has not been in direct contact with Arafat for one month.

"Arafat’s fellow Arab leaders have decided to turn their backs on him and not take any step to lift the siege thrown around him personally and the Palestinian people behind him," Al Quds Al Arabi said in an editorial this week. "None of them has even taken the trouble to ring him, not even his friend, the Egyptian president."

Mubarak, Arab diplomatic sources said, was angered by the Palestinian attempt to smuggle a ship full of Iranian weapons through the Suez Canal, owned by Egypt. Israeli commandos captured the Karine-A freighter in the Red Sea on Jan. 3, a move said to have ended the latest attempt by Arafat to smuggle weapons via the Suez Canal.

The sources said the United States presented evidence to Cairo that PA officials bribed Egyptian customs officers to allow the Karine-A through the canal. Washington, the sources said, has also sent the evidence of Palestinian involvement to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

"We continue to make very clear the responsibility that we believe chairman Arafat has with regard to the arms smuggling and with regard to the terrorist groups," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Thursday.

The U.S. evidence has prompted doubts in Congress over approving a Bush administration request for the advanced Harpoon anti-ship missile to Egypt. The deal is worth $400 million and regarded as a priority in Egypt's military procurement program.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the sources said, have refrained from launching heavy pressure on the United States for Arafat to leave Ramallah.

The result, they said, is that Arafat will be unable to fly to Rabat on Friday for the meeting of 15 Arab and Islamic foreign ministers to discuss the future of Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Palestinian officials said Arafat sent PA Public Works Minister Azem Ahmad to Baghdad to deliver an appeal for help to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "The letter described the dangerous developments that the Palestinian lands have been witnessing," PA radio reported.

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January 2002


Standing Ovation at U Chicago for MER Publisher Mark Bruzonsky Keynote Address. Full text at http://www.MiddleEast.Org/uchicago.htm
(January 31, 2002)
Standing Ovation at University of Chicago for MER Publisher Mark Bruzonsky Keynote Address. Full text at http://www.MiddleEast.Org/uchicago.htm

University of Chicago Speech by MER Publisher Mark Bruzonsky
(January 31, 2002)
Available at:

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Black Voices for Peace in Washington put on a good show last Monday, Martin Luther King's Birthday. For Blacks it was a well put-together and nicely produced program that went on for some 5 hours in a local downtown heart-of-D.C. church.

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The Arab "leaders" having deserted Yasser Arafat, as well as the Palestinian people. The terrible weakness and divisions of what is known as "the Arab world" are more visible than ever now.

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British Support for Israel and Sharon
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(January 22, 2002)
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The Terribly Bloody Year In Kashmir
(January 2, 2002)
The Kashmir crisis is at the heart of the clash which may or may not yet erupt into nuclear confrontation on the sub-continent. For additional information about the Kashmir crisis use the new search capabilities and check the MER archives.

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