March 19, 2002
To: Churches for Middle East Peace's Email network
From: Corinne Whitlatch

This issue analysis and action guide has been mailed to CMEP's grassroots postal network.  You will want to adapt your advocacy messages to commend the recent actions by the Administration while keeping in mind that they may prove to be more smoke and substance.

Filling the Void of U.S. Inaction

March 2002 (March 19 - The Administration took steps to insert itself into a leadership role on March 12, when it responded to a proposed Security Council resolution, not with a veto but with another resolution that referred to a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. And reversing his course again, the President sent special envoy General Anthony C.  Zinni to Israel to calm the raging violence and smooth the way for Vice President Cheney's consultative tour.)

On March 2, at the end of the Jewish Sabbath, nine people, including three children, were killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. This was in retaliation for Israeli raids on two refugee camps, which left at least 23 Palestinians dead since Thursday February 28. A few days before, two pregnant women were shot; one Palestinian and one Israeli. Their baby girls lived, but the father of one was killed, and the grandfather of the other. The suffering and despair we can glimpse from these fragments of news accounts is not reflected by statements from U.S. officials, for example: "I'll reiterate today, as I have before, that the first step to get there [negotiations] is to end the violence…"

Maybe it is a well-thought-out strategy.  Maybe not. The Bush Administration sits back, disengaged, and waits for the parties to get serious about peace.  It was a tactic chosen in 1990 by the first President Bush and his Secretary of State, James Baker, to deal with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's recalcitrant stance.  Then came the Gulf War, which reshuffled alignments in the region, and internationally; and in the Fall of 1991 dealt hands to reluctant players gathered around the table in Madrid - Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and a Palestinian delegation with the U.S., the Soviet Union and others. Now, again, waiting for them to quit fighting seems to be the main component of this Bush Administration's strategy.

As a reporter asked at the State Department press briefing on February 20: "Have you guys resigned yourselves to the fact that you're not going to be able to do anything except issue statements like this from the podium?" (The spokesman had said, again, that the U.S. is deeply troubled about the violence and thinks the Palestinian Authority needs to take action to halt the terror, and asks Israel to avoid actions that make this objective harder to obtain.)

Fortunately, new initiatives are flowing into the vacuum of U.S. inaction. 

If Washington Won't Step In, Who Will?
That is the front-page headline of an article in The New York Times Week-in-Review section on February 24.  The writer sums up Washington's strategy as "stand squarely with Mr. Sharon to isolate and pressure Mr. Arafat to crack down on violence."  Then he reports on suggestions, all centered on the premise that renewed American involvement is the key, including enlisting Mr. Baker as a special envoy.

Indeed, each of the emerging alternatives recognizes the centrality of U.S. involvement, but the alternatives jump over the end-of-violence obstacle, and into negotiations.

Advocates of Israeli-Palestinian peace in the United States need to push the Administration to cooperate with its allies in paving a new path.  Specific initiatives are outlined here with the realization that some may fade and others may build in the time before they come before the reader.

Crown Prince Abdullah's Initiative
Bypassing normal diplomatic channels, Saudi Arabia's leader gave Thomas Friedman, an American journalist, the big story (which was published in The New York Times February 17 edition). Abdullah told Friedman that he expected to encourage the Arab League, when it meets on March 27-28, to offer normalized relations to Israel in return for its withdrawal from the land occupied in 1967.

Some would dismiss his proposal as a public relations ploy.  Clearly, Saudi Arabia's standing as a U.S. ally has been appreciably damaged by the onslaught of criticism related to the September 11 attacks on the United States.

For decades, oil and petrodollars fueled the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which flourished despite the vast cultural differences between the theocratic monarchy and the democratic superpower. Saudi Arabia has for years ranked first as customer for U.S. arms makers.  The Saudis are reported (by The Washington Post on February 11), to have spent well over $100 billion on American weapons, construction and support.  And of additional benefit to the U.S. has been the Saudi investment in Western financial institutions, with an estimated $500-800 billion going into the American economy.  The Saudis have contributed to every presidential library as well as Barbara Bush's campaign against illiteracy and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" anti-drug program.

Perhaps it's the money that helped to muffle U.S. criticism of Saudi Arabia's repressive governance practices and religious intolerance; perhaps it's the importance placed on Saudi Arabia's strategic value - because of its oil and location.  The U.S. bombing of Iraq, which has continued for more than10 years now, is dependent upon facilities provided to the U.S. by the Saudi regime. The U.S. promised to withdraw from Saudi Arabia once the job of expelling Iraq's army from Kuwait was done, or when asked to leave. About 5,000 U.S. troops remain today, and a state-of-the-art command center has been built by the Pentagon. This outrages the clerics and followers of the proselytizing Wahhabi movement, which provides religious legitimacy for the House of Saud's rule.
 

That 15 of the September 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia compelled groundbreaking investigation and reporting of the murky U.S.-Saudi relationship and the dynamics of Saudi society.  The royal family found itself in a dangerous situation. As with all the Arab and Muslim governments cooperating with the U.S. in the anti-terror campaign, their populations are rife with anti-American sentiment motivated by Palestinian suffering and humiliation under Israel's military might, with arms supplied free by the United States.

No matter what spurred the Saudi peace initiative, it can be said the Crown Prince's proposal has momentum.  Everywhere, reporters are querying officials. The content of the proposal reiterates the basic land-for-peace formula, but its importance lies in it being voiced by the Saudi leader.  By placing Arab recognition of Israel as a starting point, it may be possible to restore hope for Israelis that peace is really possible, i.e. with the whole Arab world, as well as hope for Palestinians that the occupation can be ended through diplomatic means.

The best antidote to the use of violence by Palestinian militants would be Palestinian confidence that the international community, the United States and Israel were serious about fulfilling the requirements of UNSC Res. 242 and 338.  The appeal of violent actions could evaporate if the prospects for a negotiated peace were real again.
 
U.N. Security Council
A U.N. role may be at the center of a new initiative. The Security Council already has an historical authority over the Occupied Territories and the determination of their sovereignty that dates back to the League of Nations' assumption of the collapsed Ottoman Empire.  The United Nations' partition of British-mandate Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, and the Security Council's Resolution 242 in 1967 form the internationally legal basis for the two-state solution.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, addressing the Security Council on February 21, spoke of nearing the edge of the abyss as he considered the toll of dead and wounded and intensified bitterness.

Annan supports the Mitchell Committee's recommendations "in principle," but noted they had not been implemented "in practice" and that trying to solve the security problem on its own would not work. (This report by an international committee led by former Senator George Mitchell calls for a cessation of violence, followed by confidence building steps - including a freeze of settlement activity - leading to bilateral negotiations. See www.cmep.org )

The key political issues, particularly the question of land and the increasingly desperate social and economic conditions of the Palestinians, must be addressed, as well as security. Annan has asked the UN Special Coordinator for the Mideast Peace Process, Terje Roed Larsen, to intensify his consultations with the parties.

The Security Council has agreed to hold periodic consultations on the Middle East.  A resolution from Arab diplomats is, at the time of this writing, being brought before the Security Council. The first draft of the resolution builds upon an initiative from Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah. It focuses on Arab state recognition of Israel in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
 
Cheney on a Mission?
Vice President Dick Cheney is going to the region in March.  It was being said he will not focus on peacemaking but on broader American relationships in the region as the war on terrorism expands.  But, as visiting professor at Princeton Stephen Cohen says; "He's going on the reigning theory that you can have a solution to the United States relationship to terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction without dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This trip is going to test that assumption."

The President's State of the Union casting of Iran and Iraq as an "axis of evil" alarmed many U.S. allies, in the region, in Europe and beyond. The Administration's internal battle about if/when/how it might unilaterally attack Saddam Hussein is blatantly inconsistent with the international tenor of the anti-terrorism campaign it is working to hold together.

Around dining tables and over endless cups of tea and thick coffee, Mr. Cheney is certain to hear plenty of appeals for the United States to work with the United Nations and the international community to construct an Israeli-Palestinian track for peacemaking.  Much will be made of the short-comings, indeed huge failings, of both leaders - Sharon and Arafat.  Some will say that peace is not possible with one or the other.  Yet, as Mr. Arafat reminded reporters, "He [Mr. Sharon] demolished by himself all the settlements [in Sinai.] If there's a will there's a way."

For now, the Crown Prince's initiative seems to have changed the planned agenda for the V.P.'s trip.  Secretary of State Powell, at the time of this writing, is saying that Cheney would seek to "flesh out the Crown Prince's ideas." Those ideas don't constitute a plan or blueprint, but do shift the debate away from blame for the violence back toward the vision of a common future for the two peoples living in two states and sharing the city they both claim as their capital.

Urgent Action:
A new resolution is likely to come before the Security Council for consideration. A U.S. veto would be a setback for peace and further harden anti-American sentiment.  A probable time for diplomatic decision-making would be late March, following Mr. Cheney's trip and the Arab League meeting of March 27-28.

Of course, the danger continues that new violence might again blow
consideration of peace off the table. Advocates will want to stay abreast of
changing events and the progress of the Saudi Crown Prince's initiative and the emergence of other initiatives.

Write to Secretary Powell and Ambassador Negroponte:  Personal letters, sent by fax if you can, are considered the most effective form of communication with governmental officials at this time. Your separate letters to each should be short and focused on the following points which you might adapt as appropriate for changing circumstances.

1.  Urge the U.S. government to support initiatives that can restore confidence that peace is possible. Now is the time to formulate a plan to actually implement UNSC Res. 242 and 338.

2.  Ask each to support the proposal of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince as a starting place for a comprehensive peace settlement that has international support.

3.  Ask each to support the United States working with a United Nations-based process.  If a UNSC resolution is foreseen, ask that the United States support it. Express concern that a U.S. veto would be a setback for peace and further harden anti-American sentiment.

5.  To Secretary Powell, express appreciation for U.S. efforts to calm the violence and implement the Mitchell Committee report, and regret that that approach has not been fruitful. Say that his demands upon Mr. Arafat to end violence should be matched by demands upon Mr. Sharon to end the use of heavy weapons (supplied by the U.S.) and to end the siege of Palestinian towns. Ask that he and President Bush make clear to Israel that the United States wants a real settlement freeze now. This just might re-energize the Mitchell Plan.

The Honorable Colin Powell
The State Department
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC    20520
FAX: 202.261.8577

H.E. Mr. John Negroponte
Permanent Representative of the U.S.A. the United Nations
799 U.N. Plaza
New York, NY    10017-3505
FAX: 212.415.4443

FOR NEWS:
American Committee on Jerusalem, an Arab/Muslim organization, has a daily compilation at www.acj.org (click on Jerusalem in the News)

Americans for Peace Now, affiliated with an Israeli peace group, has weekly summaries at www.peacenow.org (click on Middle East Peace Reports).

The Holyland Ecumenical Christian Foundation, at www.hcef.org, compiles news from and about Palestinian Christians (click on News, then on HCEF News)
 

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Corinne Whitlatch, Director
Dianne Jelle, Network Manager
Churches for Middle East Peace
100 Maryland Ave. NE, # 313
Washington, DC 20002
202/488-5613; fax 202/554-8223
www.cmep.org
 

Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington based program of the American Friends Service Committee, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service and Witness, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.