Nov 11 2001

Bush Mistaken for Shunning Arafat

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

United States President George W. Bush is making a political mistake by refusing to meet with the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. Such a meeting is not only important for the political health of the coalition against Ben Laden, it is also the right thing to do.

During the past decades the US has accepted upon itself the role of the sponsor of the peace process in the Middle East. America has refused to allow the United Nations or the European Union from taking a lead role in trying to bring peace to this sensitive region in the world. The minimum requirement of any party that has taken upon itself this role is to meet with the leaders of both sides. By insisting on this role the US must act as an honest broker trying to bridge the gaps not widen them.

One of the issues that the Bush Administration and previous administrations have insisted on was the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to meet face to face. Washington has repeatedly said that it can’t want peace more than the parties themselves. As former Israeli prime minister often said it takes two to tango. President Arafat had the Palestinians have repeatedly called for negotiations as the way out of the current deadlock. Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon has refused to meet with Arafat and has tried to torpedo meetings between his foreign minister Shimon Peres and Arafat.

If the President of the United States and his aides publicly declare that Mr. Bush will not meet Arafat, what incentive does an Israeli leader have in meeting the Palestinian leader.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) which Arafat heads, was born on the lawn of the White House in 1993 when the PLO and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding. As part of this memorandum elections were held in the Palestinian territories for president of the PNA and for 88 member legislative council. The elections, which were observed by a respected international team that including former US president Jimmy Carter, produced a clear victory for Yasser Arafat. President Arafat was elected by 88% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. The elections were described as free and fair.

A summit meeting between the leader of the United States and a Palestinian leader is not a goal in itself. Yasser Arafat who has met every important leader of the world doesn’t need yet one more photo opportunity. But a public rejection of such a meeting becomes an insult not only to Arafat but also to the Palestinian people. Such a public shunning attempts to delegitimize the Palestinian leader and their just struggle for independence and freedom.

The leader of the free world has refused to meet with a noble peace winner and has chosen to meet with a leader who has been disgraced by his own people for his role in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre. A war crime, which a Belgian court is hearing testimony about.

The US president has erred in his decision at a time that his government people and army are trying fighting a war in the far corner of the world under the tile “enduring freedom.” In order to endure freedom for Americans and their allies America must respect the needs of oppressed people desiring freedom and liberty from the yokes of a brutal foreign occupation.

One week earlier, President Bush and Colin Powel scolded the Israelis for their incursion into Palestinian cities which left death and havoc to Palestinian civilians and properties and demanded Israel to leave these Palestinian areas and not to return to them. Hard-line Israeli Ariel Sharon rejected this request and the Israeli army continued its illegal occupation of Palestinian towns.

On the other hand, Yasser Arafat has declared the military wings of all Palestinian movements, illegal, has arrested tens of Palestinian militants and the Palestinian police has violently tried to quell anti American demonstrations. Instead of the Palestinian leader being rewarded and the Israeli leader being punished the opposite is happening. No wonder a moderate pro US Saudi official has said this action makes a sane person mad.

We are told that the reason Arafat is being shunned is that he has embraced the Lebanese resistance movement Hizbullah and the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement Hamas. The last time Arafat spoke about Hizbullah was when the Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon. Going against popular thinking Arafat rejected the notion that Israel withdrew under military pressure from Hizbullah but because of the then Barak government’s peaceful intentions. Such a statement won Arafat many enemies in the Palestinian community not the least of which among Hamas. The Palestinian security forces have not spared Hamas in its arrest campaign.

It is certainly fair to say that not all Palestinians are happy with Arafat’s policies. Arafat’s human rights record towards Palestinians has received negative marks from Palestinians hoping for a democratic Palestinian government that respects the rule of law. But it is exactly the rule of law that the US wants Arafat to break by their request that he randomly arrests Palestinians without any proof. In this vein the US is acting as a spokesperson for Israel who wants Arafat to do what it was not able to do in more than thirty-five years of occupation.

Neither Arafat nor Israel nor the US can stop a proud people wanting to be free. What the United States and its National Security Agency must concentrate on is not whether to meet or not to meet, but how to end the only remaining occupation in the world.

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