Arafat Puts on Milage, But Spins in Place

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ICEJ NEWS – 08/24/2001
PLO chief Yasser Arafat has launched another trademark whirlwind tour in search of more international support for the Palestinian intifada, but his latest anti-Israel offensive found little traction this week at the United Nations or Arab League.

Starting on Monday, the PLO forced a week-long open debate in the UN Security Council on the ongoing violence in Israel, but by Friday Arafat had struck out for the third time in less than a year at securing Council approval for an international “protection force” in Palestinian areas.

On Wednesday, Arafat attended an emergency meeting in Cairo of Arab League foreign ministers, where he heard lots of familiar anti-Israel rhetoric and promises of financial support for the intifada, but failed to unite the Arab states behind any concrete new measures to punish Israel.

By Thursday, he was in New Dehli for talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, then off to Pakistan to consult with military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and finally on to Beijing at the invitation of Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Upon his return from China, Arafat is tentatively scheduled to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres “sometime next week” in Berlin, although the date and venue are not yet firm. And he also hopes to visit Damascus for reconciliation talks with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad at some point within the next two weeks, but Syria is putting steep pre-conditions on his invitation.

The fifteen members of the UN Security Council hit an impasse today on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, split between support for a mildly-worded “presidential statement” on the Middle East or a Palestinian-backed resolution that the United States said it would veto as “unworkable” and “one-sided.” Debate finally ended today, when the Palestinians withdrew their draft resolution in the face of a clear lack of support.

Earlier, most council members conceded that any action was unlikely for now, after acting US Ambassador James Cunningham said, “We’ll oppose [the PLO resolution] by any means that we have to.” Faced with the threat of a US veto, Britain and Norway jointly suggested yesterday that the council go instead with a statement appealing to both sides to take measures to restore calm. But PLO representative Nasser al-Kidwa said a so-called presidential statement, which is not legally binding, was “too little, too late.”

The draft resolution circulated by al-Kidwa would have, among other things, condemned Israel and placed monitors in Judea/Samaria and Gaza. Council members Bangladesh, Jamaica, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritius and Colombia backed the PLO initiative, but the PLO appears to have lost the support of Russia, Singapore and at least one other council member who endorsed a similar proposal in March, forcing the US to exercise its veto power. This will mark the third time since last December that Arafat has fanned out at the UN on an armed observer force, a key component in his bid to “internationalize” the conflict with Israel.

Meanwhile in Cairo on Wednesday, Arafat told the urgent gathering of Arab foreign ministers, “We need a more firm stand confronting the Israelis after they have destroyed every thing we built.” He stressed the need for a unified Arab strategy to force the US and international community to take up its “responsibilities” in the Middle East. “Our people will resist the occupation. Israel is mistaken if it thinks that the Palestinian people will kneel before its force and military might,” Arafat concluded his speech.

But the Arab League failed to reach a consensus – required under its rules – on the major PLO demands, including a renewed economic and diplomatic boycott of Israel. The Syrian delegation championed these steps, but Egypt and others argued their contacts with Israel could help put an end to the violence and reduce tensions in the region.

The conference did call upon the US to cease supplying Israel with advanced arms and urged a boycott of goods produced by Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria and Gaza. Furthermore, the Arab foreign ministers declared that Jerusalem is an Islamic Arab-Palestinian city and rejected all forms of “Judaization” of the city. They also repeated previous pledges to shower urgent assistance on the Palestinian people, both financially and morally.

Arafat then took his faltering campaign eastward, to India, Pakistan and China. In New Dehli, Arafat remarked, “I have come here to make consultations with our friends on how to carry on in the international field, especially in the United Nations and in the Security Council,” a frosty reference to his latest defeat in New York.

Arafat also said he was interested in meeting with Peres “at any time,” but later noted, “In Israel, it is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, not Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who makes decisions.” And in Beijing on Friday, Arafat insisted he is “ready at any time” to begin peace talks with Israel to end the violence, “but the Israelis refuse.”

Meantime, Peres warned last night during a tour of Poland that no one should expect a breakthrough with the Palestinians as a result of the pending talks with Arafat.

The anticipated rendezvous with Peres, to discuss the idea of a “rolling ceasefire,” runs counter to Arafat’s simultaneous attempts to secure an historic invite from the Syrian regime – an implacable foe of Israel. PLO second-in-command Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] made the trip to Damascus earlier this month and Palestinian Authority official Nabil Sha’ath arrived in the Syrian capital today to finalize arrangements for such a visit. But a Syrian official quickly outlined a set of stiff pre-conditions for hosting Arafat.

The Assad regime will only agree to the visit if Arafat first declares that the Oslo process is finished, the intifada will continue, and Palestinian demands – especially on the refugee problem – will be solved according to UN resolutions. “If Arafat accepts these conditions, a meeting between him and the Syrian president will take place by next week,” the Syrian official said.

An Arafat-Assad meeting would not guarantee an end to the traditional animosity between the PLO chief and the Assad dynasty, but it would signal Israel and the rest of the world that Arafat is desperate for help from somewhere. It would also be taken as another clear indication he no longer cares to feign an interest in peace.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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