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The Sharm Conference: Basically Superfluous

04 June 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The Sharm el-Sheikh Conference of Arab leaders with President Bush is over.  The American demand for Arab world ‘normalization’ with Israel was firmly rejected, the Arab leaders did however endorse the ‘Road Map’.  The Arab emphasis on the ‘Map’ means the establishment of a Palestinian state with the return of all refugees to Israel and the ensuing destruction of the Jewish state. 

Obviously normalization could not be part of the deal, its interpretation would be acceptance of Israel’s Jewish national status (Zionism) as a prelude to Palestinian refugee return only in the Palestinian state to be.  Furthermore, Egypt suspended all normalization with Israel years ago (it was part of the Camp David Accords 1979), Mubarak told the Clinton Administration he did not want to hear the word again.  Considered as ‘original sin’ by most, including moderates, Israel is simply not accepted as part of the Middle East, despite the tactical behind the scenes maneuvering by certain Arab countries (esp. the Hashemites in Jordan) may appear to prove otherwise.

From the Arab perspective the whole Sharm Conference was forced on them.  ‘Warm-ups’ were not necessary for today’s Aqaba summit.  Bush may be riding a wave of success after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Arab moderates such as those invited to the parley are viewed by their own people as swimming in failure for the exact same reason.  They opposed the American move and were completely ignored.  Now Bush wants to improve relations with the Arab world and stand by the ‘moderates’.  Hosni Mubarak and Co. could improve relations behind the scenes and be absolved from the media hoopla broadcast by Al-Jezira and humiliating them in front of 300 million Arabs.  But the Arab leaders had no choice. 

From the Israeli moderate term perspective, Sharm did not really help.  The Arab interpretation of the ‘Map’ demands Israeli suicide.  The winners at the moment are the ‘rejection states’, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and others not invited.  One can expect a backlash the minute the US shows weakness, whether in the form of terrorism (which would probably happen in any case) or in an Arab/Moslem effort to undermine US interests, much to be done surreptitiously.  

Now there is the Aqaba Conference, said to be rehearsed in advance.  Palestinian PM Mohammed Abbas (Abu Mazen) is to stop terrorism and Israeli PM Sharon will remove illegal proto-settlements while recognizing Palestinian rights to an independent state.  Bush and Jordanian King Abdullah II are to be witnesses to the deal.

If implemented, it could be a promising beginning, but the road is long and arduous, especially when the Arab world will have to publicly recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a ‘Jewish state’ with all its ramifications.  That will be the real test.