Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Abbas Shiblak looks at the future for the Palestinians as a peace conference draws closer.
Round table price for the sins of Saddam
THE Palestinians' stance over the invasion of Kuwait was widely seen in the West as supportive of Saddam Hussein. But this was the arbitrary and over-simplified interpretation placed on it by the United States administration which suddenly divided the world into two camps: those who were proSaddam and those who were anti-Saddam.
It was a return to the early 1950s when one often heard the blunt American ultimatum: you are either fighting with us or you are against us. The US administration became the custodian of the world's morality.
Small countries like Tunisia and Jordan with a long-standing pro-western stance, were penalised for not joining the US-led coalition in the Gulf.
The PLO's official position upheld the principle of the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the avoidance of war and foreign intervention, and the quest for a peaceful solution — primarily an Arab one. Yasser Arafat endeavoured through shuttle-diplomacy to find a solution to the crisis.
All the proposals for an Arab outcome, including the Palestinian one, were rejected. In fact the early American intervention altered the debate in the Arab world from concern over the invasion of Kuwait to fear of what seemed to be a far more destructive threat.
Many felt strongly that the main Arab objective should be to give diplomacy a chance to avoid a devastating war over which the Arabs had no control. Fears and suspicions of western domination, which were historically justified, gained ground rapidly. The sins of Saddam, who was the first to blame for provoking this hurricane, were easily overlooked.
Indeed, the failure of the West to show the same strength of feeling over Palestine as it did over Kuwait was another factor which influenced the views of many Arabs and Moslems — Palestinians in particular. It was widely asked why the Americans had never contemplated similar action to counter 23 years of occupation of Arab land by Israel.
The Americans seemed to consider that persuasion was enough as far as the Israelis were concerned but not sufficient to solve internal Arab problems. For many Arabs, the duplicity and hypocrisy of the West was so blatant that claims of morality in "liberating Kuwait" by the US — led forces were seen as a mockery. The views of the majority of Arabs were more a sign of defiance of the West than complacency over Kuwait or support for Saddam.
Saddam decided to invade Kuwait for his own reasons, which were mainly financial. Convinced that there would be no war, he then brought God, Palestine, the pan-Arab cause and the redistribution of wealth into the picture.
It was an ideal banner with which to exploit, fully and crudely, genuine and widespread resentment against the legacy of a colonial system which is stilt in force in much of the Arab world.
This was the second time in recent history, after their defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, that the Arabs had to come to this sad and bitter end.
On both occasions they were trapped or led into a confrontation they had never sought and which was gravely mishandled by their selfappointed leaders.
The Palestinians seem doomed to suffer most from this
crisis. At a human level those in
the diaspora will be the first victims of tribal nationalism which is sweeping the Arab world. They are the displaced, unwanted minorities which Arab governments have feared most while paying lip service to their cause.
The Palestinians' dilemma is that their right to statehood and freedom from oppression and occupation apparently depend on their good behaviour. If they are found "supporting Saddam" then their rights can be called into question by the Americans who are nevertheless prepared to deal with brutal and undemocratic regimes when it suits them.
How can one describe the Israeli behaviour, then — its refusal to comply with the international will, its daily violation of human rights in the occupied territories, its cooperation with the apartheid regime in South Africa and its arms supplies to -the most ruthless dictatorship in Latin America?
The PLO is the only available framework for the Palestinian people in their struggle for nationhood and symbolises the aspiration to live in their own free and independent state. It includes representatives from all political groups and communities in Palestine and the diaspora, bringing together trades unions and independent activists and religious and public figures.
But Israeli intransigence and the blank-cheque support it still enjoys from the United States remain the main obstacles to any peaceful settlement.
So far the Americans have not gone beyond cautious and vague formulations and have shown disturbing signs of intending to apply old and unworkable remedies. Confronted with stubbornness and blackmail from the Israeli side, and fears and submission from the Arab side, the US administration seems more willing to pressure the Arab states for further concessions, sustaining the old view that Israel will come to its senses by persuasion rather than pressure.
If a regional conference is actually held, it will he presented by the United States as a step forward. But it will be seen as a very divisive measure in the Arab world — as the negation of previous agreements that the only way forward is a genuinely international conference. Even if the United States succeeds in promoting a Camp David-style solution between Israel and Jordan, it will not address the fundamental problems.
Firstly, it will further undermine the position of its Arab allies by exposing their subservience to US foreign policy. Secondly, it will not even begin to tackle the human and political dimensions of the Palestinian question, as the United States would find it very difficult to find an alternative to the PLO in the talks. The Palestinians are not going to surrender their only achievement over the past 25 years — the right to speak for themselves and not through the voice of an Arab government.
With its military success in the Gulf, the United States now seems tempted by the solution outlined by James Baker well before the Gulf crisis: Jordan is the Palestinian state, the occupied territories are to be ruled in accordance with the basic guideline's of the Israeli government with only limited Palestinians autonomy, and the political representatives of the Palestinians will be chosen for them.
While the PLO will be excluded, and the Palestinian leadership either imprisoned or deported, new Israeli excuses will be hailed as generous steps forward. Peace in the Middle East therefore looks as remote as ever. One track of the twintrack approach — the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation — will be blocked, while the other — the Arab-Israeli negotiation — will end up achieving very little.
Abbas Shiblak is a Palestinian writer and Middle East analyst. Extract from his essay in Beyond the Gulf War: The Middle East and the New World Order, edited by John Giiiings and published this month by the Catholic Institute for International Relations. Ce.) CIIR 1991.