As Secretary of State Colin Powell pressed Arab leaders to help
quell Palestinian suicide attacks, a newly militant Arab world looks
prepared - short of a complete Israeli pullout from the West Bank -
to rebuff US diplomatic efforts.
The Middle East has changed from what it was even in late
February of 2001, when Mr. Powell embarked upon his first overseas
mission as a new and ambitious US Secretary of State. That was a
time when he could still expect warm smiles and offers of unstinting
support from moderate Arab states.
But in Egypt yesterday, and in Morocco on Monday, Powell
discovered just how much Arab opinion has shifted. And, in response,
he is making some adjustments to his official positions on the
In Morocco on Monday, Mr. Powell described his own mission as one
meant to persuade moderate Arab leaders to publicly condemn suicide
bombings and other militant activities against Israelis. But King
Mohammed VI stunned some observers by ask- ing Powell: "Don't you
think it was more important to go to Jerusalem first?"
Powell will make five stops for discussions with Arab and
European leaders before arriving in Israel the end of this week.
In Egypt yesterday, the reception was less severe, but far from
warm. Protesters at the al-Azhar Islamic university burned Israeli
and US flags ahead of Powell's visit, chanting "burn, burn the flag
Powell emerged from a meeting with Egytian President Hosni
Mubarak, saying he would meet with Palestinian Authority President
Yasser Arafat later this week. The US had been hesitant to commit to
a meeting with Mr. Arafat in the week leading up to yesterday. He
added: "I think that it is up to all of us to recognize that the
suicide bombings - all of this has to be brought to an end. I would
ask all the leaders of the Arab nations and the Palestinian nation
to say to their people that this is the time to stop this kind of
In Israel, new violence gave urgency to Powell's mission. While
Israel pulled out of some areas in the West Bank yesterday, in
partial accordance with US wishes for a complete withdrawal,
Palestinian sources claimed that new incursions had been made as
intense fighting continued in several areas. Thirteen Israeli
soldiers were killed and nine wounded in fighting in the Jenin
Refugee Camp, according to an army spokesman. More than 100
Palestinians have been killed in battles inside Jenin over the past
Meanwhile in the Arab world, there is a growing disenchantment
with how the Palestinians are being treated. Government-appointed
clerics in Egypt, who hold great sway here, have pointedly reversed
their position toward Palestinian-led suicide attacks against
Israeli targets in recent days.
"The whole region is far more militant than it was," says Hala
Mustafa, a political and social analyst with the Al Ahram Newspaper
Group in Egypt. "Religion, as never before, is playing the main role
in mobilizing people - both Palestinians and their Arab neighbors."
One of the slogans being chanted by Egyptian protesters angry at
Israeli military incursions into the West Bank is particularly
disturbing, says Ms. Mustafa. "The demonstrators are shouting that
'Israel is the enemy of God!' - a slogan very popular with Algerian
extremist groups" that have enmeshed that country in a bloody civil
"And because there is no real Arab army as such, Arab youth and
demonstrators feel that they have no other way except to fight back
through militant groups," she says. "In Syria, the population
supports Hizbullah; and in Palestine, they support groups like Hamas
and Islamic Jihad."
Mustafa says even Arab women have become more militant in the
past year. "The ones you see in the streets are not acting in a
modern way," she says. "They are covering their heads with veils."
For them, Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian woman to attack
inside Israel on Jan. …