Arab Summit Urged to Take Bold Steps Against Israeli Occupation

ON the eve of an extraordinary Arab summit, set to convene in Baghdad May 28, pressure is growing for Arab leaders to endorse a confrontation strategy to counter Israel's occupation of Arab territories. Heightened violence in the occupied lands, and public rallies, protests, and rioting in Jordan and Lebanon have raised the stakes for the one-day summit, called to consider the impact of a wave of Soviet Jewish emigration into Israel.

Demands are also being voiced that Arab regimes allow more political freedoms for their own nations.

The summit ``is the final test for the Arab leaders'' warns Yasser Abed Rabo, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee. ``They either live up to the challenge or leave the area to Israeli and American hegemony.''

But two days of violent rioting, which swept most of Jordan this week, show that the challenge faced by Arab leaders goes beyond simply confronting Israel and supporting the 30-month-old Palestinian intifadah (uprising). Speakers at rallies throughout Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip demanded that Arab leaders unleash political freedoms in their countries to allow the Arab nations to take part in supporting the Palestinian struggle.

``No to Arab repression, no to Arab silence,'' protesters shouted in Jordan. ``Listen, listen [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein]! The voice of the people will not be silenced,'' the rioters - many from Jordanian refugee camps - chanted in a direct appeal to the host of the Arab summit.

``Despite its tragic dimension, the Israeli massacre of Palestinians has [heightened] the pressures on all Arab leaders to attend the summit,'' says an Arab official, referring to the May 20 killing of seven Palestinians by an Israeli gunman.

The Jordanian government, which has the biggest concentration of Palestinians in exile, reacted swiftly, calling for immediate international protection of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

According to Arab diplomats, the outburst of anger in Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have greatly contributed to ``convincing'' both Saudi Arabia and Syria not to boycott the summit. Although Syria has not announced its final decision, Arab officials says President Hafez al-Assad would make a grave mistake by not sending at least an envoy to the summit.

``By boycotting the summit, Assad would be left out in the cold, while Saddam would appear to earn this leading role,'' at the summit, an Arab diplomat says.

But regardless of Mr. Hussein's bid to lead the Arab world and counter Western pressures against his country's military buildup, analysts maintain that Hussein's goals and success will hinge on the summit's ability to endorse effective and practical steps to counter Israel.

PLO officials have already disclosed that their priority is for the Arab summit to endorse firm resolutions to pressure the world community and particularly Washington to send United Nations multinational troops to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to protect the Palestinians.

The PLO's second demand is for Arab countries to back the intifadah financially. To attain its goals, the PLO insists that the Arab states should use their economic, political, and even military power to convince or force ``an apathetic West'' to comply.

Palestinian officials here have not dismissed the possibility of seeking economic sanctions against the United States as one means of pressuring Washington to change its position on Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel and provide international protection for the Palestinians.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said May 22 that ``[Jewish immigration] threatens to blow up the peace march and put the whole region on the verge of a new bloody confrontation.''

The PLO will also ask for the revival of an Arab national security pact, obliging all countries including Egypt to defend Palestine or Jordan, should Israel attack Arab territories.

Jordan is the strongest backer of the PLO plan because of Jordanian fears that Soviet immigration into Israel will force a mass exodus of Palestinians to Jordan and tip the tiny kingdom's political balance.

At the same time that Jordan is becoming the focal point and catalyst for Arab popular support for the intifadah, riots in the country present a serious dilemma for King Hussein. Though popular discontent and protests are helping Jordan to draw Arab attention to the impending dangers, the violence is threatening to disrupt its infant democratic experiment.

Continuation of the violence might fuel divisions between Jordanians and citizens of Palestinian origin who constitute roughly half of the population.

But the immediate issue at stake for Jordan, the Palestinians, and the Arab world, according to analysts, is the summit's ability to ensure and defend Arab national security and Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

``It will be a historic summit, perhaps the most important ever,'' says Jamil Hilal, a Palestinian analyst. ``Its success will constitute a big quantitative leap in Arab collective action in support of the intifadah, but its failure will amount to a catastrophic setback. Its failure means that a whole historic era, including the achievements made, might go down the drain.'' -30-{et

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