A raw deal, all the way from Madrid to Oslo

The Arab view

Beirut - Arab leaders are still warning of the imminent collapse of the "peace process" but the Palestinian diaspora are talking about doomsday. "Don't talk to me about American mediation - they cannot be 'honest brokers'," one of the most experienced Palestinian officers in Lebanon told me yesterday afternoon after taking another call from Gaza on his refugee camp phone. "What we have to do now is ensure all the Palestinian opposition are united together against Israel, not struggling against each other under Israeli occupation."

Not long ago, his words might be dismissed with contempt. But the calls were coming from Palestinians in the occupied territories, anxious to ensure the Palestinians based in Lebanon and Syria were not going to engage in inter-Palestinian struggles if "the end" comes. "It's a turning- point in the war between our two peoples," the Palestinian said. "The old 'intifada' is finished - the new intifada will be qualitative. We cannot go on throwing stones and setting tyres on fire. There has to be direct contact with the Israelis."

It didn't take long to understand what this means. If the Lebanese guerrilla war against the Israelis, which drove the mighty Israeli army back to the southern frontier of Lebanon, was an example to the Palestinians, would not the Palestinians from Lebanon who are now in the West Bank use the tactics they had developed in the Lebanese war in any coming battle with the Israeli army? Yes, the Palestinian said, he wanted his people to talk to the Israelis, to try to persuade them - desperately - to reverse the events set in motion by Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to construct the Jewish settlement on occupied land. But he didn't hold out much hope. "Madeleine Albright [US Secretary of State] is still talking about putting the 'peace process' back 'on track'," he said. "But she can't. The US has lost all its credibility."

There are few Arabs who would disagree when the most pro-Israeli US government ever is vetoing any condemnation of the Jewish settlement. As an Egyptian journalist said yesterday: "It's the same old story - the Israelis provoke the Arabs by some flagrant violation of the peace, the Palestinians react violently and then the Americans line up behind the Israelis in condemning 'terror'. Our president (Mubarak) is openly saying he was betrayed. He's right - he was betrayed - by the Israelis and by the Americans."

Arabs list the reasons why Washington has so fatally lost control of the "peace process". How can it be a 'middle-man' when its ambassador to Israel is former head of the largest Israeli lobby group in America? How can President Clinton understand what the Israelis are doing to the "peace" when his advisers include a former Israeli army officer who served on the Lebanese border scarcely three years ago? Fewer Arabs remember how many of them so blithely accepted the flawed Oslo agreement of 1993, which fatally undercut the results of the 1991 Madrid summit. At Madrid, they were promised land for peace based on UN Security Council Resolution 242. Oslo allowed the Israelis to renegotiate 242, deciding for themselves which pieces of Palestinians territory they would hand back - and when - while closing off Jerusalem with further settlements before final-status talks. After that, the Beirut camp official said, it was only to be expected that Mr Netanyahu would refuse to give back the occupied Golan and accuse Syria of not wanting peace.

Mr Mubarak did say yesterday that he was still waiting for Mr Netanyahu to honour his word by the "peace process" - he is saying much harsher things to his advisers - while the Israelis are now trading insults with virtually every Arab nation with whom they had, until last year, some semblance of relations.

Can Mr Mubarak trust Mr Netanyahu? When I asked the Israeli Prime Minister in Cairo last month whether Palestinians could buy new homes in Jewish west Jerusalem, as Israelis are to be allowed to in the Arab east of the city, he said he thought they could - "so far as I know." But this is untrue. They are prevented from doing so. Mr Netanyahu says he will provide Arab as well as Jewish homes. Israel promised 18,000 Arab apartments next to the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev in 1980. Not one has been built. On Monday an Israeli spokesman insisted on the BBC that "there is nothing in the (Oslo) agreement, in any shape or form, that limits what Israel can do in its own sovereign capital." But nowhere in the Oslo agreement is there any reference to all of Jerusalem being Israel's "sovereign capital".

The truth is that the Arabs - for all their dictatorial leaders and secret policemen and torture chambers - believe they have been taken for a ride. Which is why some of them are thinking of how to fight for their islands of territory in the West Bank rather than make peace from them.

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