BEIRUT -- Arabs are dismayed by the fact that American positions concerning
the Middle East have in effect been subordinated to Israel's will. The injunction
comes from Ariel Sharon, prime minister of Israel, and the accommodation from
the American president, George W. Bush. Sharon who suggested a conference on the
Middle East. Now this has become an American proposition.
It was Sharon who declared that an overhaul of the Palestinian Authority should
precede any attempt at resuming peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
Now this has become an American demand.
Israel mounted numerous brutal assaults against Palestinian territories inside
the West Bank, committing atrocities in densely populated areas and refugee camps,
without inciting the least protest from the American administration. Israel being
America's close ally, it was legitimate for Arabs to perceive the United States
as Israel's tacit accessory in those devastating assaults.
The American envoy to the United Nations performed an active role in drafting
a Security Council resolution prescribing a UN fact-finding mission about Israel's
assault on the Jenin refugee camp. America was among the Security Council members
endorsing the resolution. Israel rejected the resolution, and the American administration
acquiesced in the Israeli stand without a word of disapproval.
Sharon is evidently determined to get rid of Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian
Authority. It is felt in the Arab world that the American position with respect
to Arafat is skewing toward Sharon's stand.
There is a strong feeling on the Arab side that the precondition of reforming
the Palestinian Authority is nothing but a delaying ploy. The U.S administration
should be aware that no real reform is feasible except in a free, democratic atmosphere
in the Palestinian territories now under occupation. It seems that the priorities
have been perversely set. The territories ought to be liberated from occupation
first, and a Palestinian independent state established. Then and only then can
adequate reforms be undertaken with a modicum of democracy prevailing.
It is widely believed on the Arab side that the American administration is
betraying the very values it doggedly preaches as it denies the Palestinians a
basic human right, freedom. How credible can the administration's call for human
rights on the world scene be when it denies the Palestinian people its natural
right to freedom and human dignity?
The U.S administration insists on posing as the peace broker or at least the
peacemaker par excellence in the Middle East. This role, crucial as it is, looks
very vulnerable on account of the administration's blatant bias in favor of Israel
at the expense of basic Arab rights in Palestine.
America's prejudice against the Arabs borders on racial discrimination. In
the circumstances, America's posture as a vigorous proponent of human rights in
the world becomes at least equivocal. America's unqualified support of Israel
in holding on to the occupied Palestinian territories projects the American administration
as an accomplice in the continued violation of international resolutions. America
cannot pose as leader of the world while ignoring international resolutions. The
view in the Middle East is that Israel cannot keep the occupied Palestinian territories
and still preserve its Jewish and democratic character. Because of disparity in
demographic growth rates between the Arab population of the occupied territories
and the Jewish population of Israel, it is forecast that in at most 10 years there
will be more Arabs than Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Israel cannot uphold its character as both a Jewish and a democratic state
- unless of course it precipitates forced mass migration of Arabs. That is inconceivable
in a world that adheres to human rights.
It is therefore evident that it will be in Israel's own interest to withdraw
from occupied Arab lands. And the American administration would be doing Israel
a disservice by pursuing a policy that bolsters Israeli intransigence.
Arabs expect no more than equity and justice from the world's unrivaled superpower.
The writer is a former prime minister of Lebanon. He contributed this comment
to the International Herald Tribune.
Copyright © 2002 the International Herald Tribune