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Reporting the Baghdad Summit

Arab fears and the Israeli right wing

By Abdulaleem El-AbyadAbdulaleem El-Abyad is minister counselor of the Press and Information Bureau for the Arab Republic of Egypt at the United Nations. / June 18, 1990



THE recent Arab summit conference in Baghdad was held to consider among other things, the looming dangers to the peace process by the sudden flood of Soviet Jews to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. By and large, the American media coverage of the summit was fair and accurate. Unable, however, to avoid dramatization, the media has tried erroneously to represent the proceedings of the meeting in terms of rivalry between the so-called radicals and so-called moderates, winners or losers in a regional contest for leadership.

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But by its undue emphasis on the question of rivalry, the US media failed to capture the spirit behind the seething frustration of all Arabs at the moratorium placed by the caretaker Shamir government on the peace process and the settlement of some Soviet Jews in the occupied West Bank. Hence, there was a failure on the part of the media to properly interpret some of the summit rhetoric. The rhetoric was a corollary of the excesses of Israeli policies both toward the illegal settlement activity and the brutal way Israel has handled the residents of the occupied territories who protested the massacre of Palestinians at the hands of Ami Popper, an Israeli ex-soldier characterized as deranged.

Disregarding the rhetoric, the real message of the Arab summit was to remind the international community, primarily the US, that Palestinian and Arab patience has limits, that further radicalization is perceived unless tangible progress is realized toward reviving the peace process, and unless a more forceful attitude was adopted toward the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration in the occupied lands.

Missing from commentary is any real insight into the motives of regional players who want to plunge the Middle East into a new era of chaos. Also missing is a comprehension of the depth of fear Palestinians have of another displacement, another fait accompli that would eliminate for them lawful claims of statehood.

By stubbornly repeating that Soviet Jews have the right to settle anywhere in the occupied territories, Israel is shattering the tolerance levels of the people of the West Bank and Gaza who are engaged in an essentially peaceful struggle for freedom and who have displayed a universally acknowledged desire for peace with Israel.

Advocates of settling Soviet Jews in the occupied territories and the authors of the failed raid on an Israeli beach have one thing in common. Both want to destroy the prospects for moderation among Palestinians and Israelis. Both yearn for a return to a new era of Arab-Israeli confrontations.

Furthermore, Israeli extremists seek to halt the universal advance toward d'etente, disarmament, and freedom lest it infect the Middle East. They have a vested interest in the cold war. By advocating in word and deed the settlement of Soviet Jews in the occupied lands, the extremists seek to inflame passions in the Arab world against Israel and the US, the latter being perceived rightly or wrongly as the ultimate underwriter of Israeli annexations. Their target is to place the Arab world on a collision course with the US.

On the other hand, those who planned the raid on an Israeli beach while the summit was convened in Baghdad are sending a message to Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman who has opted for peace and dialogue with Israel, and to the Arabs who conceive an indispensable role for the US as a broker for the desired Israeli-Palestinian peace, and who want to win the US on their side in their development efforts.

The media's dire predictions notwithstanding, the resolutions adopted by the Arab summit reflected unanimity on continuing the peaceful option on the basis of former summit resolutions. To the chagrin of the extremists, the Arab world for now at least, was not placed on a collision path with the US. But they will try again.

After the Arab summit, the issue to be addressed is how to prevent the extremists from imposing their morbid and belligerent vision on the area. They do possess a well-rehearsed script for the area's destabilization. They could accelerate illegal settlement activity on the West Bank and Gaza, launch a raid here or there, or execute a well-planned and unprovoked attack on an Arab technological facility. By such tactics, they feel confident about their ability to derail the peace process.

Inevitably, the US will be blamed either for deception or failure to exercise the right leverage for realizing a just peace.

Such a script could be avoided. To preclude it, the Arabs, the US, and especially peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians have to keep a watchful eye on the behavior of the extremists. American media, the most powerful and most extensive in the world, could focus its glare on the designs and motives of mischief-doers. By so doing, they can render a valuable service to the cause of peace and enlightenment.