- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2000

When the Arab League heads of state convene in Cairo today, they won't be gathering at a peace table. As the Palestinian-Israeli violence has spiraled out of control in the weeks since the failed Camp David summit, many surrounding Arab nations added to the tension with their own fire. As they discuss what their united strategy toward Israel should be, they must realize that backing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by adding their own armed uprisings will only aggravate the conflict.

Hopes for a moderate voice at this time are unrealistic. Countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan may have been able to put positive pressure on the Arab nations in calmer times, but in a time of near-war, the radical voices will drown them out.

Egypt a leading "moderate" Arab voice since it signed an accord with Israel at the first Camp David summit 22 years ago is now a land being pressed from within and without by extremist forces. As the only Arab country other than Jordan to have peace accords and diplomatic ties with Israel, Egypt is coming under additional pressure from its neighbors to cut those relations. Indeed, both Jordan and Egypt said Thursday they would reconsider those ties if Israel did not concede to an ultimatum which affirmed their commitment to the peace process.

At the same time, Egypt was faced with national parliamentary elections this week in which President Hosni Mubarak's party could not afford to be seen soft on Israel due to strong anti-Israeli sentiment growing at the grassroots level.

Saudi Arabia will follow the consensus, and has already said it will not bend on the issue of the Palestinians controlling East Jerusalem. It is unlikely that this stand, shared even with its Egyptian host, will be challenged by the other Arab states.

Syria is exhausted with diplomacy. In a meeting with Madeleine Albright, President Bashar Assad didn't just refuse to control the Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas fighting against Israel. His foreign minister is leading a call to end all ties with Israel, and he warned her that anti-Israeli sentiment is on the rise in the Arab world and is something that U.S. policy-makers will have to deal with, period.

Mr. Assad can expect to have the full support of Iraq, which will be joining the League for the first time since it invaded Kuwait. Both nations and some of their Persian Gulf state counterparts not only approve of the Palestinian attacks on Israel, but believe the Arab world should assist them.

This they would do to their own detriment. Israel demonstrated to the Arab world in 1967 and 1973 what it can do when its statehood is threatened through invasion. With the death count in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since Sept. 28 now well over 100, Arab leaders cannot afford to bend to the extremists who will continue to incite violence. This weekend provides an opportunity for the Arab leadership to call its people to stop rock throwing long enough to realize that holy war has not gotten it closer to the peace they say they want. It has only made Israel more determined to protect herself at any price.

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