by George Baghdadi
(IPS) DAMASCUS --
differences have emerged in the Arab world over the Middle East policy statement by President George Bush.
Several leaders have welcomed Bush's speech for its mention of a Palestinian state. Others have condemned it for what they see as a bias towards Israel.
Bush provoked immediate controversy over his call for the ouster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Bush said the creation of a Palestinian state is contingent on the emergence of a new leadership untainted by "terror" or "corruption."
Bush said: "Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing terrorism. This is unacceptable."
According to Bush's plan, a provisional Palestinian state will take shape before the completion of statehood within three years, during which the Palestinians and Israel would settle thorny issues such as the final borders and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes.
The speech was welcomed both by Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Arafat turned the tables on Bush by calling an election in January that he seems almost certain to win. He called the long-awaited blueprint a "serious effort to end the Middle East conflict."
Sharon said he was "extremely pleased" by the speech. "When there is a complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement...then it will be possible to discuss how to make progress on the political tracks," Sharon said.
Jordan and Egypt, the two key Arab allies of the U.S., welcomed the speech, though each raised some concerns.
"We welcome favorably the speech by President Bush," the Jordanian government said in a statement on Jun. 25. But the statement insisted that any reforms in the Palestinian territories must be carried out by the Palestinians.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak described the policy outlined by Bush as "totally balanced."
Arab League chief Amr Mussa saw certain "positive points" in the "very important speech" by President Bush. He said he hoped that Arab countries will intensify coordination to facilitate the birth of a Palestinian state. Behind the public pronouncements, officials say they are scrambling to get answers from Washington.
Saudi Arabia has not responded officially to the speech, which effectively ignored its peace plan adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut in March. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah had proposed a complete Israeli withdrawal from areas occupied in 1967 in return for normalization of ties with Israel by Arab states.
But Syria reacted with clear dismay. "Bush's ideas were a new punishment against all Palestinian people and a threat to the entire Arab nation," Dr. Fayez Saeygh, director-general of the Syrian state-run TV station told IPS today.
A front-page editorial in Al-Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of the ruling party, lashed out at Bush's "additional controversial" address. The paper said these were half-baked ideas doomed to failure for "lacking all elements of a completed initiative."
The comments were the first official Syrian reaction to Bush's speech in which he called on Palestinians to elect leaders "not compromised by terror". Bush had demanded that Syria, whose role is vital to peace in the Middle East, crack down on Palestinian militant groups and Hizbollah guerrillas he calls terrorists.
"Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations," Bush said in his speech.
On his recent trip to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly stressed what the Israelis call a growing threat from Damascus-backed Hizbollah in southern Lebanon.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of the militant group Hamas's political bureau, told reporters in Damascus that Bush's statement was "a copy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's repeated stances."
He said: "Bush should have asked Israel to end its occupation in order to stop violence because the source of violence is occupation." The Hamas military wing has claimed responsibility for a string of suicide attacks on Israeli civilian targets.
Maher Taher, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, vowed to continue fighting Israel and criticized Bush for calling for a change in the Palestinian leadership before the peace process could advance.
The question of leadership is "an internal Palestinian issue" and not Bush's concern, Taher said.
Ali Badwan, spokesman for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said in a statement that Bush "wants a new Palestinian leadership more docile to the American dictates."
Several Arab leaders who spent the last few months lobbying for a detailed American plan have again found themselves in an awkward position. They say they are now awaiting a promised but not yet scheduled trip to the region by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Several commentators have said that Bush has put the onus on the Palestinians to take action, without demanding anything of the Israelis in the short term.
"This is a catastrophic speech that gave the Arabs nothing," said Emad Fawzi Shueibi, a political analyst and professor at the University of Damascus. "Bush did not offer a solution -- he gave new conditions that the Palestinians have to meet in order to start negotiations."
June 27 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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