Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Surprises before and Benefits after the Signing Ceremony

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Surprises before and Benefits after the Signing Ceremony

Article excerpt

Surprises Before and Benefits After the Signing Ceremony

September this year was a month of pure surprises. One old-line Zionist supporter of the Likud party line, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), put it best when she asked the head of the National Association of Arab Americans, Khalil Jahshan: "Could you ever imagine me ... the senator from Rockville [a heavily Jewish Maryland suburb of Washington, DC] meeting with Yasser Arafat?" Before the White House South Lawn signing ceremony for the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, it would indeed have been hard to visualize. Yet the chairman of the PLO seems to have charmed those he met throughout the U.S. national capital, including the staff of the National Security Council and Washington journalists during a National Press Club question-and-answer session.

A "Friend" in the White House

Upon his return to Tunis, Chairman Arafat made the statement that he "had found a friend" in the American White House. Observers in many places wrote that this could and should have happened 20 years ago.

The September shocks continued right into October: President Bill Clinton actually decided to notify Congress that he was about to deduct $437 million from Israel's $2 billion in U.S. guaranteed loans for 1994 because the Israeli government had spent that amount on Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, in the past year.

Israelis Ask for Congressional Nod

And some in a shocked Israel immediately suggested that Congress should pass new legislation overriding the president on this issue. There were very special terms granted Israel on loan guarantees giving Congress the opportunity to overrule the president if he should actually cut off the loan guarantees. These provisions do not apply to the deductions. So the presidential determination to deduct the full amount of the spending on West Bank settlements including Jerusalem will stand.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met with Chairman Arafat in Cairo to establish not only joint committees to discuss the take-over in Gaza-Jericho, but also a committee to discuss access to Jerusalem. That part of the Cairo meeting was handled quietly, but still the Endgame is already on the table.

It was in 1974 that the United States joined Israel in refusing to deal with the PLO, and therefore with the Palestinians. The "peace that could have been" almost certainly was delayed for many years by that announcement 19 years ago by Henry Kissinger, at the suggestion of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, that the U.S. would not recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization until it renounced terror and its charter was changed.

The intervening two decades of unreality were forgotten in the truly historic South Lawn ceremony, which was remarkable also for its showmanship. Whereas the Camp David ceremonies took place in the cramped East Room of the White House, 3,000 guests were present for the signing on the South Lawn. The audience was assembled even more hastily than the White House explanation of how the massive U.S. intelligence net had utterly failed to detect that while Arabs and Israelis spun their wheels through 10 rounds of negotiations in Washington, a major peace initiative was being hammered out in 14 rounds of meetings in Norway. …

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