- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Envoys from the PLO, Egypt and three other Arab countries said yesterday they were open to a Bush administration proposal to reorganize Palestinian security services but warned that unless Israeli occupation ended, suicide bombings were likely to continue.
"We are willing to look at any suggestion to make the security forces more effective," Hassan Abdel Rahman, Washington representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said at a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
"We don't have a concrete proposal yet, and we will listen to [CIA Director George J.] Tenet," whose return to the Middle East was announced by President Bush at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday.
Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy said, "We will provide the Palestinians with all assistance required to rebuild institutions relating to security as well as infrastructure and civil service."
But in order for Yasser Arafat to stop suicide bombings against Israel, Mr. Fahmy said, the Palestinian leader needs to be able to show his people "a light at the end of the tunnel" and give them hope for an end to Israeli occupation.
The envoys of Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and the PLO also said that an international conference proposed by the Bush administration won't succeed unless the agenda leads toward the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
If Mr. Sharon tries to limit the summer conference to controlling violence and refuses to deal with the fundamental sources of Palestinian anger, it will be "a recipe for more violence," said Lebanese Ambassador Farid Abboud.
"Violence is resulting from the political situation, not the reverse," he said, listing the sources of the anger as occupation, Israeli settlements, the plight of Palestinian refugees and the disputed status of East Jerusalem.
He said that even though all 22 members of the Arab League have adopted a Saudi-devised plan offering Israel peace and recognition in exchange for its 1967 borders, a return to the peace process "has not happened."
"Sharon has no vision of the future he wants the status quo," which leaves 5.1 million Israelis ruling over 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, said Mr. Abboud.
Mr. Fahmy said the Middle East is becoming "more and more dangerous" because each side is so frustrated that it condones the use of force, including attacks on civilians.
"As long as peace is not a reality, we will call on the United States. We need your support for the peace process, we need the prestige and power of the American president," he said.
The Arab public was pleased when U.S. pressure helped lift the Israeli siege of Mr. Arafat in Ramallah, he said.
But it "is not seen well in the Arab public" when the Bush administration calls Palestinian violence a bigger threat to peace than Israeli occupation.
Mr. Rahman said the current intifada, which began after the collapse of peace talks at Camp David in 2000, has turned back the clock on peace hopes.
"I am one of those Palestinians who negotiated with Israel over eight years," he said, noting that many friendships and business deals were formed by the two sides. "All that has been destroyed in the last 18 months."
The Egyptian ambassador called for the international conference announced on May 2 by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to be "comprehensive" and tackle Israeli security concerns as well as Palestinian political needs for a two-state solution.
"Incremental steps will be challenged by those against peace on both sides," said Mr. Fahmy, who represents the Arab world's most populous country and the first to make peace with Israel.
Mr. Fahmy also rejected attempts by the Sharon government and some of its American supporters to sideline or exile Mr. Arafat. "It's a waste of time for either side to try to change the leader of the other side," he said.
Algerian Ambassador Idriss Jazairy said many Arabs saw the Palestinians as fighting for their freedom, much as Americans fought against the British in Colonial times and the Algerians fought against the French.
He called for "an international force that would put an end to the violence" and look at complaints of Israeli war crimes in Jenin, where Israel blocked a U.N. inquiry that it feared would be critical.
All the ambassadors rejected the suicide bombing of a game parlor in Israel on Tuesday. But, Mr. Jazairy asked, "Killing by tanks and helicopters is it necessarily better? None of these are clean. None of these are acceptable."
The ambassadors said the American media often support Israel unfairly and ignore Palestinian fatalities, which have been far greater than Israeli deaths in the 18 months of violence.
Mr. Rahman said the peace process collapsed because Israel did not stop the increase in settlers in the Palestinian territories from 130,000 to 200,000 since the 1994 Oslo accords were signed at the White House.
"When we raised that with the Americans, they would say keep your eye fixed on the goal. You'll get a final status agreement" for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, he said.
"Israel and the Palestinians are bound by geography. We share the same piece of land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. There has to be a two-state solution, sharing this land.
"The other option I am afraid of is to fight each other. Neither side will accept subjugation. The formula will be the same in 10 years as it is now."


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