Syria is odd man out as rest of Arab world lines up behind PLO. ARABS GALVANIZED
Nicosia, Cyprus — The recent decisions of the Palestine National Council and Washington's refusal to grant PLO leader Yasser Arafat a visa have galvanized Arab support behind the PLO. Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq have emerged as the key champions of the Palestinian cause now that the Palestine Liberation Organization has finally taken the decisions urged on it for years by the peace-seeking Arab moderates.
But radical Arab states, including Algeria and even Libya, are also rallying behind the PLO, recognizing the newly declared Palestinian state and expressing outrage at the US refusal to issue Mr. Arafat a visa so that he could address the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
[Arafat, in his first public comments since the US denial Saturday, called the US move ``a sheer violation of the international law and the UN charter,'' the Associated Press reports.]
The newfound Arab unity leaves Syria very much the odd man out in an Arab arena which otherwise stands unusually united behind the PLO, the Palestinians, and their year-old uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While Syria supports the intifadah (uprising), its relations with the PLO remain extremely poor. Syria's isolation is further emphasized by the emergence of its most powerful traditional Arab rivals, Iraq and Egypt, at the core of a new, vigorous alliance.
Since 1980, Iraq had been embroiled and preoccupied by its war with Iran, while Egypt had been treated as the Arab world's pariah since 1979 because of its peace with Israel.
But the ending of the Gulf war has freed Iraq to return to center stage, with the Palestinian issue providing the opportunity. Yesterday Iraqi President Saddam Hussein made his first visit to Egypt in nine years. On arriving, he referred to the Palestinian issue as one reason for the surprise visit.
Iraq and Egypt had earlier taken the lead in expressing their disapproval of the American decision by cancelling the trips which their foreign ministers were to have made to the UN in New York.
Egypt's reemergence has been the result of growing Arab and Palestinian moderation, regional analysts say. That process has been crowned by the PNC's decisions, calling for a peace conference based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 and declaring the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The announcement of the new state gave Cairo a chance to burnish its Arab credentials by extending recognition to the state, a decision which angered the Israelis. Egypt's rehabilitation in the Arab world took another important step forward last week with the announcement that it is to resume relations with Algeria, the nation which hosted the PNC meeting.
The American decision to deny Arafat a visa has given moderate Arab leaders an issue on which to demonstrate their unity of purpose and commitment to the Palestinian cause.
A pivotal figure at the center of the alliance is Jordan's King Hussein. Only a few months ago, his relations with Arafat were cool, even tense. But on Sunday, he warmly received the PLO leader in Amman, and praised the ``positive results'' of the PNC meeting.
The King also strongly condemned the American decision to deny Mr. Arafat a visa, saying the move was ``aimed at stifling the positive and moderate Palestinian voice, the voice of peace and justice.''
King Hussein took the initiative in conferring with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and launching a joint Arab initiative to have the UN debate on Palestine moved to Geneva so that the PLO chairman could address the UN members.
This display of Arab solidarity might add up to unprecedented pressure on Washington and Israel if it were not for the fact that the governments in both countries are in transition.
But when US diplomacy reemerges from the presidential transition, it will find Washington's key Arab allies - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others - solidly lined up in support of the PLO and its peace strategy demanding an independent state.