Massoud Derhally: No wonder the Arabs no longer have faith in America

The Arab world sees nothing but unfulfilled American promises and an intransigent Israel
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There is a passage from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli I like to mention when discussing the Palestinian-Israeli impasse and the Arab world's travails. It seems quite prophetic but neither Tony Blair nor George Bush paid much attention last week to the following quote when they declared their unflinching support for Ariel Sharon. "Whenever those states which have been acquired have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws."

Instead, both leaders concurred with Sharon's "unilateral disengagement plan."

Arabs were still reeling from the lunacy of the Bush-Sharon press conference when Israel deplorably carried out another illegal extrajudicial killing that took the life of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the second execution after the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin the leader of Hamas. This was a vindictive act that will not only fuel the cycle of violence, increase the resentment of America in the Arab world, but most certainly lead to a proliferation of Osama bin Ladens.

Perhaps the most destructive aspect of this entire charade is that the present American administration alienates even its closest of friends in the Arab world. It courts Israel with open arms while putting allies such as Jordan's King Abdullah in a truly precarious position. No wonder then that the King postponed his visit to the White House.

One thing is for certain in the Arab world. The disinclination of the Bush administration to condemn targeted assassinations and the ease with which it blessed Sharon's "unilateral disengagement plan" sends a message: that the US is not interested in a strong, viable and independent Palestinian state. The fact that neither Bush nor his aides understand why the rest of the world consider US Middle East policy flawed should in, and of, itself be the premise for the Bush team to revaluate their policies. If Iraq is the case study for a prevailing democracy in the region, a final, just and lasting resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinians is the litmus test America must not fail.

The Arab world is disenchanted. It sees nothing but unfulfilled US promises, a Bush administration that is disconnected from the realities on the ground, and an intransigent Israel. The bungling of Oslo and the decapitation of the Palestinian leadership in 2002, after Israel's bloody incursions into Palestinian territories, made America seem, briefly, a potential knight in shining armour. Yet the US only engaged haphazardly in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Nothing exemplified this better than the road-map. Bush put it on the table a year ago at Aqaba, Jordan, but never followed up on its implementation. The plan, which the Israelis riddled with preconditions, is for all intents and purposes dead.

During the June 1967 war, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which calls on Israeli to withdraw from the Arab lands it occupied in the conflict. During the October 1973 war, the resolution was supplemented, and reconfirmed, with Resolution 338. Both resolutions have underpinned the post-Madrid negotiations.

Yet Bush last Wednesday gave Israel a green light to discount internationally recognised covenants when he said: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

Bush also ignored UN General Assembly Resolution 194, passed in 1948, which states: "(Palestinian) refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date."

Israel cannot ignore these laws while it conveniently, if rightly, cites the injustices done to the Jewish people during the Second World War. If it is to make peace with its neighbours, it must view Palestinians as equal partners, as human beings who have also suffered unjustly. Israel is in gross violation of international law through its annexation of east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and its establishment of illegal settlements in occupied lands.

An Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, after decades of Palestinian humiliation, collective punishment and near enslavement of a nation, is the least Israel can offer the Palestinians.

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, told me last September: "Nobody wants to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved more than I do. No Arab wants to see that resolved as much as I do. No Israeli wants to s ee it resolved as much as I do. That is our goal."

If that is the case, then Powell, Bush and Blair must grasp that for peace to prevail, for the hostilities to abate, the US needs to create a win-win situation where Palestinians are granted their inalienable rights, a life free from occupation, where they are treated as equals by their Jewish neighbours. Only then will America be viewed as a credible mediator.

The author is a political commentator in the Middle East