Rocky Road to Middle East Peace; Will War with Iraq End the Bitter Conflict?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

Rocky Road to Middle East Peace; Will War with Iraq End the Bitter Conflict?


Byline: Zaman Shoval, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

While all eyes were justly, one may add on Iraq, President Bush, a few days before the Azores conference, nevertheless took the opportunity to make an important statement on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Most commentators have ascribed the timing of Mr. Bush's remarks in the White House Rose Garden to the domestic problems of America's principal allies the leaders of Britain and Spain. But, it would be wrong to ignore the fact that the president's words, at this particular moment, were also aimed at the Palestinians the message being: "Look, America is serious in its war against terrorism and in its intention to create a more stable and peaceful Middle East. It's your chance now to realize many of your aspirations, including running your own lives provided you change your ways, stop the violence, put an end to corruption and change your leadership. Saddam Hussein will be gone before too long and so, effectively if you don't want to be on the wrong side again, should be Yasser Arafat!"

Both Washington and Jerusalem now wait to see if the Palestinians got the message and if their chosen candidate for the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (A.K.A. Abu Mazen), got the necessary confirmation from the Palestinian Parliament. And what matters more, if he will stop the terror and violence and be empowered to genuinely and effectively conduct political negotiations with Israel. (So far the signals have been mixed, with Mr. Arafat still trying to hold on to power).

Though Abu Mazen's own political and personal record is far from being unblemished in the past, he had been a vociferous Holocaust denier more recently he has come out against terrorism. Still, he will have to prove his mettle, and only the future will tell if he is willing and able to translate those verbal pro-peace pronouncements into actions.

The emphasis in the president's remarks on peace in the Middle East as a whole, and not just on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, was clearly related to the approaching campaign against Saddam Hussein. Not only has the Arab-Israel issue never been the sole or even the main cause of Middle East instability (since World War II there were about 25 armed conflicts in the region only five or six of which had anything to do with said conflict), but contrary to the view held by some of the professional "Arabists," the post-Iraq war situation may indeed have the potential to make reaching a solution to the Palestinian problem more feasible.

When President Bush had declared a few weeks ago that "success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace," he clearly confronted the view held, among others, by Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, that "the road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem." The president turned this argument on its head, linking peace between Israel and the Palestinians to Saddam Hussein's ouster. As he said: "Without this [Iraqi] support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders."

But, getting back to the president's Rose Garden remarks on the road map and peace in the Middle East they clearly indicated that, in spite of mentioning the role of America's partners in the "Quartet" (the European Union, Russia and the U.N.), it would be the United States and not they who would set the tone. It would have been indeed strange had it been otherwise. For, after all, the E., and especially France, and to a lesser degree Russia, considering the position they had taken with regards to Iraq, could now hardly lay claim to any remaining moral or political justification for trying to play a role in bringing peace and stability to the Middle East, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nor would it make a lot of sense to give America's partners in the Quartet too significant a role in monitoring the process, given the fact that at least parts of the proposed monitoring mechanism would be driven more by political motives some highly questionable in the light of events than by concerns about the actual performance by either the Palestinians or Israel.

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