Maghreb Mirror: North African States Eager to Play Roles in Middle East Peace Talks

Article excerpt

Although the heads of state of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania, and Libyan representative Abdessalam Jalloud, convened their Casablanca conference only months after the war in the Gulf and months before the scheduled referendum in the Western Sahara, the issue of Arab-Israeli peace dominated the meeting.

In his welcoming address, Morocco's King Hassan devoted most of his speaking time to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, who followed King Hassan to the microphone, was even more explicit regarding the importance of reaching a settlement, saying that a stable Arab world and a stable Maghreb depended on it.

In fact, members of the Maghreb Arab Union (UMA) have played various roles in Israeli-Palestinian politics. That was illustrated again in August, when US Secretary of State James Baker visited Tunis, Algiers and Rabat to propose that the UMA, as a regional Arab organization, send observers to the projected Middle East peace conference. In the Maghreb that idea received a warm welcome. Rabat offered to host the opening session of the peace conference.

On the eve of the Maghrebi summit meeting, delegates expressed uncertainty about only one question concerning the US-Soviet proposed Middle East peace conference. With Mauritania's international role being minimal and limited, and Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia having many stakes in the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only Libya's attitude was unpredictable in view of its deteriorating relations with the West.

Libya's attitude, however, differed little from that of the other Maghreb states, and they ended their summit meeting with an expression of support for the present Mideast peace efforts. Observers attributed the positive Libyan attitude to Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian approval of the American Middle East peace proposals and Tripoli's desire to improve relations with Washington and the West.

Therefore, despite presently troubled Libyan-Western relations (on Sept. 20, Paris officially accused Tripoli of masterminding the bombing of a French civil airplane over Niger in 1989), UMA member states could, in their final statement, "welcome the present efforts undertaken in order to reach a global and just settlement of the Palestinian question and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Ties With Palestinians and Israelis

The various North African states have had many specific concerns or ties with Israel, the world Jewish community and the Palestinians throughout the years. Several thousand Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan Jews have lived in Israel since the 1950s and 1960s, along with no fewer than 700,000 Israelis of Moroccan descent. …