Tough decision for Haig: what to do about West Bank citizen in US jail
Ultimately it is the US secretary of state who is expected to decide whether or not to grant Israel's request to extradite a 21-year- old West Bank resident who has spent the last two years in a Chicago jail.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In some ways the case mirrors all the tensions of the Middle East in microcosm, and no one suggests that the secretary's decision will be easy. Indeed, it is sure to set an important precedent whichever way it goes.
Ziad Abu Ein, who considers himself a citizen of Jordan, is wanted by Israel on charges of planting a bomb that killed two people in a crowded Tiberius marketplace two years ago. His attorneys have argued that the charge, made by an alleged accomplice then in Israeli custody, has since been withdrawn and that sworn statements from 11 other witnesses prove that he spent that day in another city miles away.
Following court decision that have consistently paved the way for an extradition order, defense attorney Ramsey Clark, former US attorney general, formally appealed the case July 10 to the US Supreme Court. That court, which has narrow jurisdiction in extradition cases, has not taken such a case since 1936. Few experts in international law think the justices will make an exception for Mr. Abu Ein's appeal. In any event, unless the court takes the case and reverses the lower court rulings (prospects considered highly unlikely) , the secretary of state, who can take into consideration a much broader range of issues than the court, must sign any extradition order.
Accordingly, intensive diplomatic efforts to convince the secretary of the importance of his decision have been under way for many months. In March, ambassadors and other leading officials from 17 Arab nations sent a long memo detailing their concerns to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. They charged that Abu Ein's imprisonment without bail was discriminatory and strongly urged against any attempt to extradite him. Later, after a personal meeting with three of the emissaries, Deputy Secretary of State William P. Clark assured the Arab leaders in writing that "all aspects" of the case would be reviewed and that the State Department fully understands the "sensitivity and importance" the case has acquired in the Middle East.
A more direct appeal to the US government to release Abu Ein from jail on human- rights grounds was passed as a resolution in the United Nations Economic and Social Council in May. According to George Shamma of the Jordanian Mission to the UN, a similar resolution may well be taken up in the fall in the UN Special Political Committee.
Also, Abu Ein, whose defense committee supporters include an array of distinguished human-rights activists and whose imprisonment has sparked a number of demonstrations in this country and the Middle East, has been visited in jail by a steady stream of Arab leaders. They range from ambassadors to the expelled West Bank mayors of Halhoul and Hebron. His most recent visitor, last week, was Clovis Maksoud, the official UN observer of the League of Arab States. Chatting with reporters in front of the jail after his visit, Dr. Maksoud said he felt that if extradition were allowed, it would in effect signal recognition of Israeli legal authority over the occupied territories -- "it would bestow legitimacy on what is an illegal occupation . . . and allow the long arm of Israel to arrest anybody outside its own boundaries."