Middle East boils, Bush fumbles and Sharon gets more dangerous
By JONATHAN ELENDU
Exclusive commentary to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com
I have never understood why Good Friday is celebrated by Christians all over the world. This is a day, according to the Bible, that Jesus Christ was crucified. Although Christians claim that the crucifixion of Jesus freed them from sins, I shudder when people rejoice on a day a man was hanged.
Living up to the reputation of nearly two thousand years ago, this year's Good Friday is another bloody day. This day, Israeli Army moved into Ramallah in their tanks and armored carriers. They effectively demolished Yasser Arafat's compound, fired shots through his bedroom and offices, killed some people, went from room to room shooting and arresting people and left two tanks pointing their barrels at him. He has become a hostage in his own home, without electricity, water, and a food supply. This is the Israeli response to days of suicide bombings by extremist groups in the Palestinian enclave. This new wave of bombings, from the Israeli perspective, started with a suicide bombing attack at a hotel during a Passover dinner in Israel. Gen. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, emerged from a meeting with his Cabinet and declared Palestinian Authority chairman/president Yasser Arafat an "enemy" who would be "isolated." He ordered his troops into Ramallah and the next day they moved into other areas. He has added that Arafat should get "a one-way ticket" out of the Palestinian headquarters, where Arafat is currently restricted in a largely destroyed building, and be on exile!
Since these more violent turn, the glimpse of peace between Israelis and Arab nations, which hovered in the horizon a few weeks ago following the acceptance of a peace plan floated by the Saudi Crown Prince at the Arab Summit, is now dimmed. Suicide bombings by Palestinian youths, according to Israeli/Jewish views, have been the bane of the peace process. In years past Arafat used suicide bombers to achieve political goals. On the hand, Palestinians like Hanan Ashrawi insist that it's Israeli occupation of Palestine/the West Bank are at the core of the struggles undermining the peace process.
One would expect that having been accommodated, with the help of the United States, into a statesman of some sorts for his people, Arafat would have given up the tactics of terror to adopt diplomacy as a tool of negotiation. The specter of youths strapping explosives to their waists and blowing up cafes and pizza parlors in Israel is offensive to decency, morality, and the concept of good neighborliness.Before the current turn of events, I believe that Arafat could have done more to rein in the enemies of peace with Israel -- in his area of jurisdiction.
We must be clear about one thing: This recent problem which started eighteen months ago was ignited by Ariel Sharon. Arafat pleaded with the then Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, to stop Sharon from visiting a controversial religious holy site. The Prime Minister could not prevail on Sharon, to stop his visit. Obviously, Sharon knew what would result from his visit to the site. He used the chaos that ensued to further his political agenda. The saddest thing about the crisis in the Middle East is that there are no honest brokers. Everybody who is involved is there to further a domestic political agenda. Politicians in the Arab world are only interested in the plight of Palestinians because they fear their local constituency's anger with the Israeli suppression of Palestinian people may lead to riots on their streets. They also fear the rise of militancy in their countries.
The hypocrisy of American politicians continues to astound me. The Middle East, to them, is a distant place where its relevance is oil, Jewish votes, and campaign funds. They shamelessly lie and tell half-truths to appease their constituents.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement demanding that Arafat needing to do more - the usual White House demand for 100% - after the destruction of Arafat's compound by Israeli armed forces left much to be desired. The unwritten American policy seem to convey the impression that Israel must be supported for any and all actions. The Powell and Bush statements are performances that one would not have expected from the beloved General. President George Bush's statement from his ranch on Saturday was abysmal - especially his saying that he'll not call Arafat and if he wanted to know what he (Bush) thinks, Arafat should watch the tv news. What a way not to run a country's foreign policy. It was callous, shameless, and totally irrational.
We know that he and Ariel Sharon are friends and are controlled by the right wings of their parties but to heap the blame on Yasser Arafat for the actions of every Palestinian is idiotic. Telling Arafat to do more to rein in terrorist when he has been virtually under house arrest for four months is silly, even for this President. George W. Bush has shown a great capacity to jettison truth and morality for political expediency.
As at the time the President was making his statement, Arafat had been holed up in two rooms for over thirty-six hours without electricity, running water, medical and food supplies. What does the President mean when he tells a man who has guns pointed at his head to do "a lot more?" The current United States Administration decided to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were determined not to touch anything that Bill Clinton touched. How sad. They paid lip service to peace in the Middle East. After September 11, and on the hills of victory at Afghanistan, the Bush Administration turned its attention to Iraq. They needed to put together a coalition to enable the Administration to topple Saddam Hussein. Vice President Dick Cheney made a ten day, eleven nation tour to the Middle East. Instead of garnering support for the toppling of Saddam, the Vice President was told by his hosts that they could not support America while the Palestinians were being killed in their homeland by Israelis. It was only then that the Administration turned its attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
G.W. Bush came into office touting his credentials as a humble and God-fearing man. He claimed to be a "uniter, not a divider." He has been anything but that. His Middle East policy has been arrogant and naive. The notion that the United States knows better than every other nation is arrogant. Whenever an American official calls himself or herself "an honest broker" in this conflict, they display the insincerity of this Administration. Even the American media has clearly taken sides in this conflict. From the reporters to anchors, analysts, they have all made up their minds that Israel can do no wrong. Isn't it surprising that television producers cannot find people who support Palestinian positions, except the Palestinian Representative to the United States. However, people are falling all over themselves to defend and support the Israeli position.
Only few principled journalists like CNN's Bob Novak and Wal Street Journal's Al Hunt have criticized the Israeli aggression and the President's flip-flop on this issue. The old cliche that "might is right," is playing out here. The Israeli government moves its tanks and warplanes into the Palestinian territory at will. To demolish the official residence of a Head of State of an ethnic nation while the world watches is nothing short of terrorism. In a world where the American President defines what terrorism is and determines who a terrorist is, makes one shudder. It is ironic that the President of the United States knew in advance that Israel was going to demolish Yasser Arafat's home and offices, take prisoners and generally cause mayhem and yet he did nothing to stop it. His defense of the actions of Ariel Sharon is unprincipled, cowardly and shameful. The United Nations passed a resolution on the early hours of Saturday asking Israel to pull out of Ramallah and the other occupied territories.
As far as I'm concerned, the United Nations is a toothless-bulldog that looks for direction from the United States. Kofi Annan and his colleagues, instead of passing new resolutions, should ensure that earlier resolutions passed by the world body should be implemented by Israel.
Ironically, while the United States voted for the resolution for Israel to withdraw, the President of the United States speaking later in the day refused to support the resolution. There is no agreement on the origin and the cause of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. Some say it has been going on for over two thousand years, some others believe it started during the Arab-Israeli war. Many more say the conflict started eighteen months ago. However, there is agreement by all that something has to be done to check this escalation of violence in that part of the world.
Confrontation and violence will not achieve any meaningful results. It will only lead to more violence, death, and destruction. The United States should either step aside and allow the European Union and some African nations to play a larger role, or take its role as an honest broker more seriously. It is wrong for American politicians to claim that they want to broker peace while simultaneously proclaiming their undying support for one of the parties to the conflict. Arab politicians must stop sponsoring Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and other terrorist organizations. They should impress on Arafat the need to act like the Head of State he is.
He should desist from encouraging those who send out young Palestinians to become human bombs for destruction of Israeli lives and properties. Ariel Sharon should shed his gangster mentality. His lust for Palestinian blood has gotten out of hand. George Bush and Colin Powell should make Sharon realize that he cannot humiliate Arafat at will, destroy his security apparatus and simultaneously hold him responsible for the suicide bombings. Sharon must see Arafat as an equal, a fellow Head of State, and therefore, treat him with respect. The Palestinian people must be treated as equals to Israelis. Their lives are as important as those of the Israelis.
Finally, I think the United Nations should constitute a group of Eminent Persons to tackle the crisis in the Middle East. The group should comprise some eminent persons from around the world, including Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Representatives of the European Union, the Commonwealth of Nations, Organization of African Unity, Organization of American States, the Soviet Union and the Arab League. This group should be led by William Jefferson Clinton.
Suicide bombings that kill Israeli civilians will not hasten the
realization of a Palestinian State. Occupying Palestinian cities,
humiliating, killing their men, holding and making Yasser Arafat a
prisoner in his home will neither lead to peace, nor bring security
to the Israeli people. There are extremists on both sides of this
conflict who would stop at nothing to scuttle any peaceful
resolution. The only way to get a military resolution of this
conflict would be for one side to completely annihilate the other
side. This will not happen. Both parties should get back to the
negotiating table. So far, the only winners have been enemies of
peace on both sides, including Hamas,Sharon, fomer Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hezbollah.
Elendu is a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com. He writes every Friday, exclusively for USAfricaonline.com Archiving of this essay on another web site is not authorized; only web links are allowed.
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