"New York Moment" No Match for Fight Over Eternal Jerusalem
As American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders converge in New York for the UN's opening Millennium summit, there are no signs of an imminent breakthrough to the negotiating impasse over Jerusalem, only hardening Arab positions and gloomy forecasts of failed diplomacy.
After meeting one last time with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat on Friday, US special Mideast envoy Dennis Ross ended his two-week shuttle mission to the region and, according to American sources, "the conclusion is not optimistic." Ross will brief US President Bill Clinton before he meets separately with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on the sidelines of the UN conference on Wednesday. Both Israel and the PA are characterizing the upcoming parleys with Clinton as a decisive moment, which will determine whether a landmark peace agreement is possible this month, but neither side seems ready to cede any new ground on the critical issue of Jerusalem.
Following last week's convening of the Islamic Organization's special committee on Jerusalem, Arafat finally got his coveted meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday and told Arab foreign ministers that he would reject any peace agreement with Israel that does not grant full Palestinian sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem, and the implementation of UN resolutions. He vowed again to declare a Palestinian state, but did not refer to his previous deadline of September 13. "We are going forward with great determination and willingness toward our independence and national sovereignty over our Palestinian lands and establishing our independent Palestinian state and its capital holy Jerusalem, the heart of Palestine, heart of Arabs and heart of believers," he declared.
Responding on Monday, the Arab League adopted a resolution giving Arafat strong backing on his claims to Jerusalem and his plans to declare statehood "within this year." In addition, the entity of "Palestine," a member of the 22-nation Arab League, assumed the rotating chair of the regional forum. Another meeting of foreign ministers will be held next month to select the final date of a summit of Arab heads of state early next year, the first since 1996.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council met in Riyadh over the weekend on the eve of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's trip to the UN and a meeting with Clinton. "Israel makes a grave mistake if it thought that the peace process can move forward while it ignored the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to return and to establish an independent state on its own lands," said Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saudi Faisal, who chaired the meeting. "Israel would be making even a graver mistake if it imagined that the Arab and Islamic world would remain silent towards the unilateral steps it is taking in Jerusalem," he added. The Gulf foreign ministers also denounced Clinton's threat to move the US embassy to Jerusalem if Arafat unilaterally declares statehood.
The continued Arab/Islamic backing of Arafat's hard-line positions since the collapse of the Camp David summit in July has emboldened the Palestinians to stiffen further. One PA official said the Palestinians are not seeking a military confrontation with Israel, "but we will defend ourselves if the Israeli side tries to attack us." With the prospects of renewed confrontation growing, Clinton sent CIA director George Tenet to Ramallah this past weekend to try to "soften up" Arafat, but the secret mission appears to have ended in failure.
The PA's permanent representative to the Arab League even sounded a hostile anti-US tone in a prominent Arab paper: "The American president and his administration have blackmailed the Palestinians, brandishing the threat of hunger, withholding aid and laying siege to Palestinian land. Israeli settlements are being built as rapidly as ever, the Knesset has vetoed the return of any Palestinian land and fanatics attack Al-Aqsa Mosque, possibly giving rise to a sectarian war that will ravage the region. None of these developments can encourage peace of any kind. The Palestinian people looks on in amazement as the American administration ignores the dictates of international law and democracy. All they can express is their profound disappointment at double standards and broken promises."
Meanwhile, Barak told his depleted Cabinet on Sunday that he has decided to await the Clinton-Arafat meeting before judging whether the Palestinians intend to be flexible on Jerusalem. He estimated that the chances of concluding an agreement soon are slim, while sources in his office acknowledged that new elections appear almost certain. Besides his rendezvous with Clinton in New York and a speech before the General Assembly, Barak reportedly will meet UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as well as the leaders of Portugal, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Jordan, Indonesia, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Spain, Holland, Finland, Italy, Greece, Norway, Sweden, and Mexico, among others.
The opposition Likud party said Barak is setting off for New York with no mandate, since everyone knows he has no government, no Knesset majority, and no majority among the people, so that entering into agreements with him is pointless. The Opposition has managed to get 62 Knesset members to sign on to a legislative measure which would prohibit Barak from making far-reaching decisions in the peace process without Knesset approval.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.