Robert Fisk: The Arabs will ensure they receive a political reward for their support
ININ NOTE: Arabs should learn from their history. The west betrayed them
before (many times) after making them many promises, and the west will do
Robert Fisk: The Arabs will ensure they receive a political reward for
04 October 2001
The United States Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, heads for the Middle
East and President George Bush discovers that, even before 11 September, a
Palestinian state had been part of his "vision" of the Middle East.
Could it be that the Americans are quietly acknowledging that their
policies in the region might, just might, have something to do with the
atrocities in New York and Washington? Of course, it could be just
realpolitik. When President Bush's father wanted to maintain a
Western-Arab alliance against Iraq in 1991, he decided to resolve the
Middle East conflict, calling Arabs and Israeli leaders to a "peace"
conference in Madrid. Anxious to create a new consensus with Arab nations
in advance of his strike at Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, Mr Bush Jnr
now says that "the idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a
vision, so long as the right to Israel to exist is respected". Which would
have been much more impressive a statement had it been made before 11
September. But it wasn't.
Arab states, of course, have been making it clear for more than a week
that their support for Mr Bush's "war on terrorism" was conditional; in
return, the US would have to promise a resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian struggle, meet the Palestinian chairman, Yasser
Arafat, preferably at the UN in New York, and discuss an end to the
sanctions against Iraq which have killed, according to some UN as well as
Arab estimates, hundreds of thousands of children. The fact that these are
two of the four demands repeatedly made by Osama bin Laden is, needless to
say, not mentioned.
The Arabs are in an odd situation: aware of Washington's desperate need
for their support, both political and military America needs Saudi
Arabia's airbases they can demand a return on their help. But they are
also aware that Arab Muslims were responsible for the crimes against
humanity on 11 September. The "Muslim" bit may be questionable, but that's
what the mass murderers of New York and Washington claimed to be, and it
appears, at least, that more than half the killers were Saudis. The Arabs,
in other words, feel power and remorse in about equal measure. Power is
likely to be the winner: they want a political reward for their support in
the "war against terrorism".
So far, only fringe groups in the Middle East have provided some
contextual criticism of America's policies. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the
secretary general of the Hizbollah guerrilla movement in Lebanon, claims
the US "needs a vague enemy to justify the internationalisation of this
war" because "America is afraid to clearly define 'terrorism' to prevent
it from being held accountable for its own actions." Back in 1983,
Washington blamed the Hizbollah's satellite groups, Islamic Jihad and
others, for the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, the destruction of
the US marine base in Beirut with its 241 American dead and numerous
kidnappings of US citizens.
The Hizbollah are anxious to steer clear of any residual American demands
for justice. Hence Mr Nasrallah's references to a "vague enemy" and the
need to "define" terrorism. For if the Hizbollah can be classified as a
"resistance" group, as the State Department now categorises it, it is
safe. If its somewhat grimy past is taken into account, Hizbollah leaders
could find themselves on the list of "Wanted, Dead or Alive" along with Mr
Already, the Israelis are insisting that Imad Mougnieh, a Hizbollah
"sympathiser" in the narrowest definition of the word, should be an
American target because he allegedly conducted most of the kidnappings of
Westerners in the mid-Eighties and may have been behind the bombing of the
US embassy in Beirut. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, has long
called Lebanon "the centre of world terror", a fact that obviously escaped
Luciano Pavarotti, Richard Branson, Elton John and other personalities who
recently visited Lebanon.
Most Arab newspaper commentators, boring though they usually are, insist
the UN should lead a "war on terror". And it was a former Lebanese prime
minister, Selim Hoss, as unloved as he is honest, who said yesterday that
Arabs should themselves undertake "a wide campaign to fight terrorism
under the UN umbrella". Why, Mr Hoss asked, "isn't international terrorism
being fought with the weapon of international law?"
The issue is further complicated by continuing Arab demands that Mr Sharon
should be tried by an international court for his role as Israeli Defence
Minister during the 1982 Sabra and Chatila Palestinian camp massacres
which cost the lives of up to 1,800 civilians. Although the fatalities
were only a quarter of the dead so far accounted for in New York and
Washington, they are a constant reminder that "terrorism" is a charge that
can be levelled against America's allies as well as its enemies in the
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