Palestinian sell-out looms as Assad likely to join Arabs dancing to US tune

Developing Just Leadership

M.S. Ahmed

Rabi' al-Thani 19, 1420 1999-08-01

Occupied Arab World

by M.S. Ahmed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1420)

The outlines of a catastrophic cave-in to Israel are becoming clearer every day, and prospects of a separate peace treaty between Syria and the Zionist state become stronger. Islamic as well as secular groups opposed to a deal are being increasingly suppressed, and Arab leaders applaud the new opportunities for a ‘comprehensive Middle East peace-settlement’ while secretly plotting to convene an Arab League summit to bless the expected give-away of Palestine.

US and Arab leaders, as well as their media, are already in a celebratory mood, secure in the knowledge that Syria’s president Hafez al-Assad is salivating to cut a deal on their terms, provided he recovers the Golan Heights, and that Yassir Arafat is the kind of man who would ‘do business’ on desperate terms once boxed into a corner.

Their festive mood is heightened by Arafat’s crackdown on Palestinian Islamic groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and by the zeal of Egypt’s president Husni Mubarak in mobilizing Arab and African governments against ‘international terrorism’ - a euphemism for the global Islamic movement. Defusing the opposition of Islamic groups to ‘normalization’ with Israel is just as vital as clinching a deal with Syria before the explosive issues of land, water and Jewish settlements are tackled.

In fact, the Clinton administration has publicly linked the so-called ‘peace process’ to ‘combating terrorism’ and curbing the activities of Shaikh Usama Bin Laden. Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, said after a meeting with Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, in Washington on July 16, that combating terrorism, including Bin Laden’s activities, is vital to the Middle East peace process. Her reference to Shaikh Usama came to in reply to a reporter’s question on whether it was true that US Secretary of Defence William Cohen had cancelled an official visit to Albania for fear of an expected attack by his supporters there.

Mrs Albright admitted that she had discussed the issue of terrorism and its threat to the ‘Middle East peace process’ with Barak, adding that terrorism was on the increase and that the US considers Bin Laden to be an ‘international threat’. This was a clear admission that Washington is concerned not only about the Palestinian Islamic groups but also about other members of the global Islamic movement.

But for obvious reasons, fear of an Islamic backlash must centre on the Palestinian Islamic groups and on Hizbullah in Lebanon. Shaikh Ahmad Yassin, the Hamas leader, warned on two occasions recently (the Prophet’s birthday and the formation of Barak’s cabinet on July 6) of an impending cave-in to Israel, asserting that Palestine could not be recovered without jihad, and that those pinning their hopes on Barak and Uncle Sam were dreaming. Hizbullah, meanwhile, has vowed that it will not cease its attacks on the Zionist enemy.

It came as no surprise when Arafat intensified his crackdown on Hamas supporters in response to Shaikh Yassin’s challenge, nor that king Abdullah II ordered Hamas activists in Jordan to be gagged or, failing that, expelled.

But despite these concerns, the Israelis and the Americans are jubilant that the ‘main-stream’ Arab leaders are working indefatigably for normalization with Tel Aviv on its own terms. From their point of view, the job is as good as done, given that all Arafat, Mubarak, Abdullah and other Arab rulers are demanding, in return for capitulation, is that Barak immediately implement October’s Wye accord.

Mubarak, on returning from his US visit, told a French daily on July 5 that Barak must implement the accord as a first step towards a comprehensive peace settlement; Abdullah phoned Barak at Washington, urging him to do the same ‘without delay’; and Yassir Arafat, who signed the agreement with Benjamin Netanyahu in the US last October, has long since turned the line into a personal mantra.

At present Israel controls 73 percent of the West Bank, with Jewish settlements and their by-pass roads cutting off Palestinian towns and cities from each other. And the Wye agreement provides for the return of only 13 percent of the West Bank, and leaves out the thorny issues of land, Jerusalem and refugees.

The implementation of the accord supplies the Arab traitors plotting a sellout with Clinton and Barak with a fig-leaf, clearly a false one, which they believe they can use to argue that the Israeli prime minister can be trusted, as they often publicly claim. Syria will also use this fig-leaf to justify the conclusion of a peace treaty with Tel Aviv before the real issues central to the Palestinian cause are addressed.

The implementation of Wye will also provide momentum for convening an Arab League summit, for the first-time for several years, to put the seal of Arab approval on an Israeli-Syrian deal and indefinite postponement of the issues that matter. At present most Arab countries have expressed their willingness to attend.

But Mubarak, who is the main organiser of the expected event, is not taking any chances, and will not convene a summit unless he is certain that no Arab leader will be tempted to use it as a platform to attack the unfolding capitulation to Israel. Other Arab ‘safe-hands’ are helping him to convince possible rejectionist states not to rock the boat. The Jordanian monarch, for instance, has travelled to such unlikely destinations as Sudan and Yemen to explain the reasons for the new optimism.

But with Barak making it plain that he will not compromise on the main issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements, the stage could be set for a popular Palestinian, indeed Arab rejection of normalization with Israel. And Shaikh Ahmad Yassin’s outspoken recent attacks on the accord, describing the Wye accord as a betrayal, might strike a cord with Palestinian youth, leading to a new intifadha. The massive turn-outs at recent Hamas events - 50,000 at a rally in Nablus on June 25 to mark the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him), for example - leaves no doubt as to where Palestinian sympathies lie, despite Yassir Arafat’s efforts to mobilise popular support, or at least create the impression of popular support.

Even the harmless PLO groups in Syria - who have been ordered by Damascus to remain dormant - might feel it safer and more profitable in the long term to revolt. In the last few months, Islamic groups opposed to the peace process in Damascus have found themselves under increasing government surveillance and pressure, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives ordered to report to Syrian authorities regularly. This is undoubtedly linked to restrictions the Syrian government will want to place on their activities in the event of a peace agreement with Israel. Hizbullah in Lebanon would also find their freedom of action greatly restricted if such a deal is reached. Many movement leaders considered possible alternative bases should their activities in Syria become untenable, but their options are few.

One reason for optimism, however, is that the plotters may falter because they are in too much haste to organize an air-tight sellout. Assad, ailing and running out of time, needs a settlement that will enable him to leave behind a more manageable country for his son. Arafat, also ill and just turned 70, desperately needs a piece of land he can claim as a Palestinian state before he dies; Clinton, tarnished by scandal and left with only 15 months in office, craves the triumph of being the US president who achieved a ‘comprehensive Middle East peace settlement’ (Carter could only manage Egypt’s surrender at Camp David); and Barak hankers after a sellout by Syria before his coalition government unravels and suffers a fate similar to that of his predecessor.

Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1999

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