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Where Saddam Hussein
and Ariel Sharon Interconnect




February 14, 2001

LONDON - There are three great current fault lines running through the Middle East: the unsettled, no longer negotiated, issue of the Israeli possession of the Syrian territory of the Golan heights; the now suspended negotiations over the future and nature of a Palestinian state; and the long unresolved threat from Saddam Hussein to both the peace of the Middle East and to the world. By electing Ariel Sharon the Israeli public have in effect decided to tough out all three of these issues, confident that military might will contain them and that even a worse case scenario of a rejuvenated Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction can be kept in its box by Israel's preparedness, if all else fails, to unleash its nuclear weapons. It is an almighty gamble and the cost of losing is indescribable.

If there were a war in the Middle East involving weapons of mass destruction civilization would probably be set back 100 years. Not only would it involve the physical destruction of millions of innocents, it would destroy the heartland and homeland of three of the world's great deistic religions and have repercussions that would tear at the soul of both Europe and North America, not least because they are now home themselves to millions of adherents to the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

All this is to say the obvious. Yet it is clear that the efforts of outsiders, not least Bill Clinton's rigorous, time-consuming, commitment, have not born fruit. Israel has elected as prime minister a right-winger whose bloodstained history is the living embodiment of the unforgiving, unreconciling, uncompromising, avengeful, Jew. At the same time it has become more than ever apparent the last year that neither the allied war against Iraq a decade ago, nor the aggressive sanctions that have followed it have succeeded in undermining Saddam Hussein's regime, despite being responsible in their ham-fisted application for reducing to penury ordinary Iraqis leading, as Unicef claims, to the unnecessary deaths of over half a million children. As for Syria, earlier hopes that with the passing of Hafez al Assad his son's regime would be more open to compromise have proved unrealistic.

Arab governments themselves feel that their own investment in the peace process has been totally undermined by the election of Sharon and their reticence, already on a fast ebb, about making life easier for Saddam Hussein, is all but diminished.

For ten years, since the defeat of Iraq and the commencement of the Oslo peace process, the Middle East has lived on hope. That is gone, and in its place is a vacuum in which almost anything, including the very worst, could happen. No bigger problem is on the desk of President George Bush. Yet all the indications are his new Administration has not absorbed the fullness of the change of mood and, in as much as it understands a part of it, is depending on its old reflexes- as with last week's decision to increase funding for Saddam's ineffective opposition in exile- to see it through.

If years of negotiation have produced so little it is perhaps the time for some unilateralism, both by the protagonists themselves and also by the heavyweights in the Security Council. The place to start is Iraq with a joint decision by the Western powers to re-write the post war sanctions regime against Iraq. The economic ones should be thrown away and, stripped to the essentials, there should be a tight embargo on military hardware, remembering that it was under the benign era of Reagan, Thatcher and Mitterand that Saddam purchased most of his formidable arsenal. This would not solve the problem of the potential for aggression of Saddam Hussein but it would limit the damage his still broken-backed military can inflict and it would clear the air and work to keep Arab opinion on the side of the Palestinian peace process.

Second to this should be a joint announcement by the three western powers that they consider the Oslo negotiations, with its concept of incremental step-by-step withdrawals of Israel from Palestinian turf, dead. Instead of Israel seeking a formal peace agreement that will make Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories possible, they should make it clear that in their opinion Israel should announce that it was deciding unilaterally to withdraw so that a peace treaty should become possible. Yes, it would doubtless be done on Sharon's minimalist conception of what to forego, yet if it is coupled with a preparedness to recognize a Palestinian state on what territory they have so far acquired it would be psychologically a big step forward. If Sharon is not prepared for this step and instead elects for the status quo and military confrontation then Europe and the U.S. should make it clear that Israel is on its own, even to the point of winding up the hefty amounts of American aid.

As for the Golan Heights, Syria will only negotiate once it feels the tide of Arab opinion has turned; it will not negotiate in order to improve that climate.

The Middle East "order" of the last decade is gone. A new way of approaching old problems has yet been devised. But time is very short and the fuses lying around are even shorter. Sometime in the next month, two at the most, some big new decisions have to be made.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



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