Need for common Arab policy on Middle East

January 06, 2002

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BEIRUT: Palestinian Authority Information Minister Yasser Abed-Rabbo urged the Arab governments to discuss ways of extending support to the Palestinians, to “be more pro-active and send out a more coherent political message to the United States.”

Speaking in an interview here, he warned the Arab world was ”threatened with many dangers” in the current regional and international situation, and there was a risk of the Arab governments splitting “once again” into rival camps over what policies to adopt in response.

With the United States threatening to attack Iraq and perhaps other Arab countries, “there is a need for the Arab states to formulate a more coherent common policy, and to take the initiative on the political level more effectively than they used to in the past” Abed-Rabbo said.

He also said the PA will do everything it can to prevent Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories from carrying out armed resistance operations, even though it did not expect that to bring about an end to the Israeli government’s military campaign against it, let alone a resumption of peace negotiations.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s recent address calling for a “complete and immediate cessation of all armed activities” by Palestinian factions and warning that steps would be taken against those who did not comply, Abed-Rabbo argued was vital to deny Israel the chance to justify its drive to destroy the PA to the outside world, particularly the US by invoking Palestinian attacks, carried out by hardline groups as a pretext.

His remarks came shortly after the PA announced that it had detained members of its own security force on suspicion of participating in attacks against Israeli targets, following the overnight closure of the Gaza offices of a further six Palestinian institutions connected to Hamas. Abed-Rabbo insisted that Arafat’s televized speech was addressed to the Palestinian people rather than being intended to appease the United States or Israel both of which had been demanding that the crackdown harder on violators and opponents of his cease-fire call.

“We know that the demand of Israel in particular has been making, and the terms it has been setting are not really aimed at ending the violence at all” he said. “On the contrary its real purpose is to exploit the violence to justify its assault aimed at destroying the Palestinian National Authority and preventing negotiations from resuming in search of a political settlement.”

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s primary political objective to prevent an “international consensus” from developing in favour of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and all his actions on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had borne that out, said Abed-Rabbo.

“This is what we demanded that all Palestinian sides respect the cease-fire we declared and desist totally from suicide operations or attacks on Israeli civilians. We do not want to give Sharon the opportunity or provide him with the cover, for continuing his war while trying to claim that he is the victim of terrorism — when the reality on the ground shows that he is the primary practitioner of terrorism and that occupation is the highest form of terrorism.”

Abed-Rabbo said that Sharon had consistently and deliberately striven to provoke fresh violence by ordering assassinations of leaders and activists from various Palestinian factions in order to block the resumption of political negotiations with the PA as he feared that any peace settlement that resulted would force him to abandon his expansionist agenda. And the PA cabinet minister faulted groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad for consistently playing into Sharon’s hands.

“Provocation has always been an integral part of Sharon’s behaviour” Abdel-Rabbo explained. “Whenever we have announced a cease-fire or taken steps to calm the situation, Sharon has responded by announcing that he will persist with his policy of assassinations and by stepping up that policy in practice. This is deliberate provocation which he used to practice in the past and continues to practice to date” he said.

“Sharon’s objective is to ensure that we continued armed conflict and to try to portray it as if it were a conflict between two armies, rather than between an occupation army and an oppressed people under occupation.” He conceded that there was no realistic prospect of meaningful political talks between the PA and Israel resuming under Sharon’s auspices in the absence of strong US pressure on Israel.