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Not Another Palestine

Maral Shamloo

A “no” was all Dick Cheney heard in his tour of 11 countries in the Middle East. A firm “no” to America’s attack on Iraq or any renewed attempt to remove him by force, now that war against terrorism seems to be the justification for any action, whether or not it is just.

A unified “no,” even from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the United States’ closest allies among the Arab nations, undermined the United States “soft” power: the power to get others to want what you want as Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor, puts it.

But just in case that was not a big enough shock to Bush’s administration, Iraq emerged a victor last week, winning a statement of collective Arab opposition to possible U.S. military action.

In my column “Sanctions Help No One” I argued how keeping the sanctions on Iraq would be disadvantageous to the U.S. for many reasons, not the least of which is the increasing hostility towards the United States in the Arab world as a byproduct of U.S. foreign policies. The result of the summit is a further indication toward this claim. Whether or not Saddam’s government is considered legitimate by the Arab nations, he has managed to earn their sympathy, which might well be a decision driven by public pressure.

What is more interesting is America’s reaction to the negotiations. Up until the summit, America’s conditions for lifting the sanctions and even normalizing relations with Iraq were the exact terms to which Iraq had committed in the Beirut summit, namely recognition of Kuwait’s sovereignty, cooperation in seeking a definitive solution to the issue of the Kuwaiti prisoners and perhaps most importantly, resumption of the dialogue between Iraq and the United Nations on the UN inspectors’ return.

However, in response to Iraq’s movement towards meeting what the U.S. claimed to be its demands from the Iraqi government, the U.S. immediately cast doubt on Iraq’s intentions and claimed that “the neighbors have enough experience with Iraq to know the value we should place on Iraqi promises.” (Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman).

The U.S. might wish to ignore it, but the summit carried a blunt message: disproportionate and unjustified force against Iraq will not be tolerated.

The Arab summit’s stance on the Palestinian-Israeli crisis is also of imperative importance to definition and clarification of the relations between the U.S. and governments in the area. The peace initiative formulated by Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, now formally endorsed by the whole Arab world, opens a new chapter in the political book of the Middle East. Although Israel is demonstrating the most militant reactions that have been practiced for more than a decade, the conditions for a peace agreement with Israel remain the same: complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories to the 1967 borders. After 35 years of war, terror and occupation, 35 years of relentless American and hence Western support for Israel, the demands stay the same.

The Arab summit once again demonstrated the long forgotten pan-Arab responsibility and support network that holds the Arab population together. The summit declaration will need careful reading by the U.S. and its allies as they consider their policies towards the region as a whole in the months ahead.

What the Middle East is concerned with at the moment is putting an end to the bloody situation in Israel. Making a second Palestine out of Iraq is simply out of the question.