Washington's peace: disarm Palestinians

WASHINGTON considers its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East a peace process and measures the constructiveness or destructiveness of all parties' attitudes by their acceptance or rejection of those efforts. The Arabs don't agree.

Viewed from the Arab vantage point, Washington's diplomatic efforts in the Middle East so far have been an exercise in futility which will, at best, postpone the explosion and, at worst, foster the radical elements in the region and pave the way for a bigger eruption of violence.

To understand the Arabs' point of view, consider their view of the three American conditions for Palestine Liberation Organization participation in the peace process.

First, the PLO must recognize United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as they are and accept their fate as refugees, not as a people with inalienable rights. Yet the United States interprets Resolution 242 as meaning the exchange of land for peace -- conveniently excluding the Palestinians and their right to establish an independent state from this equation.

In a statement by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Richard Murphy, the administration in effect reiterated its rejection of the establishment of an independent state. Asked to comment on a proposed confederated Jordanian-Palestinian state, a US official said: ``The problem of a confederation is purely a Jordanian and Palestinian one.'' But how can that be if the US rejects the concept of a Palestinian state since a confederation by definition involves two or more states?

Second, the PLO must accept the precondition of direct negotiations with Israel within the framework of an international peace conference. Yet, the US has imposed no such condition on Israel, and Israel has shown no sign that it would accept such a precondition.

Third, the PLO must condemn all acts of terrorism. PLO chief Yasser Arafat, in a statement from Cairo, condemned terrorism but reserved the right to conduct his armed struggle within Israeli-held territory. The United States and Israel consider this armed struggle as a form of terrorism that should be abandoned and condemned by the PLO, and this is a demand that the PLO and the Palestinians as a whole are not likely to accept as long as they have no assurances that they can obtain their rights by peaceful means.

In return for meeting these three major demands, the US promises the PLO nothing but the privilege of participating in an international peace conference, with no assurance that any Palestinian right will thus be gained beyond the statement by US officials that ``you can present all issues within the conference framework.''

This United States position is hardly likely to encourage the PLO or any other credible Palestinian body to cooperate with Washington, especially since it is now generally accepted by the Arabs as a whole that:

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are ready to pressure Israel and risk a confrontation with the powerful Israeli lobby.

Both US parties appear to be convinced that American interests require keeping Israel as the guardian of the Middle East region and will therefore maintain blind support for Israel, regardless of what Israel does or does not do at the proposed conference.

Israel continues to reject the establishment of a Palestinian state, even within the framework of a conference with Jordan as defined above. In view of this rejection and the absence of American pressure, the Palestinians see no hope that this Israeli position can be changed by negotiation.

After years of observing American performance in the Middle East, the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular have serious doubts about US intentions in the region. They believe these intentions are shaped more by domestic political and global strategic considerations than by a desire to achieve a just and lasting Arab-Israeli peace.

Given these doubts, the Palestinians will need a far stronger incentive than they have been offered so far to agree to participate in the proposed international conference. As things stand, Israel is likely to emerge from this conference with all the Palestinian concessions it ever dreamed of, while the Palestinians will see none of their rights secured.

Dr. Fouzi El-Asmar is a Palestinian author and journalist residing in Washington.

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