- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

TUNIS, Tunsia Anti-American feeling intensified by Washington's support for Israel is growing across the Arab world, causing deep concern in several conservative governments.
Officials in traditionally friendly countries such as Tunisia believe the intensity of popular anger "can be exploited by demagogues of all colors, who can easily accuse the current regimes of ineptness."
Some Arabs claim that while most governments officially support the U.S.-led fight against terrorism, many among the masses consider Osama bin Laden a "Muslim Robin Hood" rather than the world's leading terrorist.
"For the time being, people are merely whispering their anti-Americanism, but if there is another major attack on the United States, many will be delighted," said Abderrazak Cherait, mayor of the Oasis of Tozeur at the edge of the Sahara.
He insisted, however, that "we like Americans and often imitate them. But the pro-Israeli U.S. policies provoke a hatred of which most Americans are not aware."
During a recent trip to Paris, Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia warned the French government of the "growing effervescence of the Arab street, which we witness every day. Only the United States, Russia and Europe can influence the situation."
[The United States came under fire for its "militarist" approach in the war on terrorism yesterday at a meeting of foreign ministers from the European Union and Organization of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul, Agence France-Presse reported.
["The unilateral and militarist approach can erode the movement" against terrorism, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said. "We will all be losers if this trend is not reversed," he said at the meeting, which brought together representatives from 71 countries.]
From Morocco on North Africa's Atlantic coast to the Arab heartland in the Middle East, the complaint is the same: the United States ignores the feelings of the Arab world and is using the fight against terrorism to support Israel.
North African officials say the intensity of Arab reaction is largely due to the feeling that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has "received a green light from Washington for repression of the Palestinians."
Chedli Klibi, former secretary-general of the Arab League grouping all Arab countries, said:
"Israel is implying that the struggle against the Palestinians is part of the U.S. war on terrorism. The only thing that counts for Israel is U.S. opinion. The policy of support adopted by [President] Bush can only undermine the peace process started by [former President Bill] Clinton."
"The greatest danger threatening peace," he said, "is the tendency shown by the United States that force can impose laws and that it is capable of permanently governing international relations."
Most Arab opinion-makers say that there is "no congenital hatred of America," and that opposition to U.S. influence and agenda is based strictly on "foreign policy choices."
Recent statements from Washington are interpreted by many Arabs as an effort to divide the world into two parts, with Islamic countries on one side. "The Arabs believe that from now on, Islam to America is an evil empire which should be defeated just as the Soviet empire was," an Arab scholar said.
With the exception of such radical Arab countries as Syria and Iraq, most Arab governments have been stressing that "Washington is the only catalyst for peace" and that the United States should persuade Israel that "violence and force do not offer a solution."


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