Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2002 in the New York Times
Egypt Assails the Lumping of U.S. War With Israel's
by Neil MacFarquhar
CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak criticized Washington today for allowing Israel to lump the Palestinian struggle to end occupation into the same category as the war on terrorism, and he echoed the impatience of other Arab officials with the lack of peace initiatives from the United States.
"This Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and its provocative, illegitimate acts are the main reason behind the escalation of the Palestinian resistance," President Mubarak said in a nationally televised speech marking May Day.
"This fierce campaign that Israel is launching on the Palestinian people and leadership must end, this campaign that is unjustly based on a comparison between the U.S. war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Israel's war against unarmed Palestinians who are resisting occupation."
In the absence of any concrete plan to help the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are likely to doubt the entire American effort, said Mr. Mubarak, traditionally a staunch ally of the United States but increasingly critical in recent weeks.
"What happened is a sudden change in the direction of the war against terrorism which, I am afraid, will shake the people's faith in it and in its credibility in the Arab and Muslim worlds," he said.
Since September, the entire American effort to fight terrorism has encountered a certain skepticism in the Middle East, where the idea that the attacks on the United States were the work of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's network, was not fully accepted.
The American failure to get Israel to halt its offensive in the West Bank has deepened regional suspicion that the United States cannot be trusted to help pursue Arab interests. This has been especially true in Egypt and Jordan, whose leaders have been forced to defend maintaining peace treaties with Israel and have resorted to lowering their public profiles.
The fact that the Bush administration managed to broker a deal that appears likely to free Yasir Arafat from Israeli siege in Ramallah shows that its engagement works, Mr. Mubarak said, lamenting a lack of further effort.
"The strong intervention of the U.S. through definite suggestions can bring a real political breakthrough that leads to security and stability in the region," he said.
Washington has indicated that it wants moderate Arab states to convince Mr. Arafat that he needs to take a more high-profile role in stopping suicide bombings.
There is some indication of that happening already, according to American officials in the region, who said that Mr. Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan and others had called Mr. Arafat in recent days.
But Arab officials noted that the United States should not expect a broad effort from the Arab side without Washington showing more spine in pressuring the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
"Where is the pressure from the U.S. on Sharon?" said Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. "Why should the Arabs put pressure on Arafat without equal pressure being put on Sharon? There is no solution except this one."
He said the main pressure should be to get Israeli forces to withdraw to where they were before Sept. 28, 2000, when the current Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation started, and for both sides to observe a cease-fire.
"It is not a question of some tanks being withdrawn or Mr. Arafat being able to go from Ramallah to Gaza, this is not a commodity to be sold for a high price," Mr. Moussa said. "Without this withdrawal I don't think there will be any progress, our side will not be convinced that the other side is serious."
Arab officials are hoping for some sign from Washington that it realizes that the Palestinian question is not another branch of the war on terrorism and that American credibility on other issues — not to mention its stated wish to take on Iraq — is at stake.
"You cannot, particularly if you are a big country, see everything through one prism," said Ahmed Maher, the Egyptian foreign minister. "In the minds of the Americans, Israel is fighting in Palestine the American war against terrorism, which is total nonsense."
"What you have in Palestine is people who are under occupation who are resisting, sometimes with methods that we do not approve, but all in all it's a situation of resistance against occupation," he added.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company