- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

When President Bush meets with Arab leaders tomorrow at Sharm el-Sheikh, he’ll have a strong message to deliver to his host, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and a select group of Arab participants, including Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hamad of Bahrain and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, on the need to fight terrorism. In a series of interviews on Thursday, Mr. Bush emphasized that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan must “work together to cut off funding for terrorist groups.”

In public comments made at the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said bluntly that, for peace to become a reality, both Arabs and Israelis must carry out their commitments. For Israel, which will not be attending tomorrow’s summit, apparently because Mr. Mubarak and the Saudis could not abide meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that means easing security-based restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, Miss Rice noted. (On Sunday, Israel lifted its closure of the West Bank and Gaza). Mr. Bush will likely use tomorrow’s summit to press the Arab side to make a serious commitment to cutting off arms and funding for such terrorist groups as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, an affiliate of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization.

“This means that the Palestinians are going to have to reform the way that their security services work. It means that they will have to take up the cause of fighting terrorism,” Miss Rice stated. She called for an end to incitement — the violent anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric often heard in mosques and read in the official Palestinian Authority-controlled press.

At the meeting, which occurs just 24 hours before Mr. Bush joins Messrs. Sharon and Abbas at an historic peace summit in Jordan, the president will have some specific, constructive suggestions about how the assembled Arab leaders can help. Egypt, for example, will need to seal its border with the Gaza Strip to prevent the smuggling of bomb-making materials and other weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups. Look for Mr. Bush to press the Egyptians to stop pushing for the inclusion of Mr. Arafat — who cast his lot with the rejectionists and continues actively working to sabotage Mr. Abbas’s efforts to reform the Palestinian security forces — in the negotiations. Mr. Bush will also demand that the Saudis cut funding to Hamas and West Bank madrassas (schools) that inculcate hatred of non-Muslims to Palestinian children. And he’ll likely tell Mr. Abbas that a truce with Hamas, which would allow it time to rebuild its forces in order to stage future attacks, is no substitute for taking decisive action against the terrorist group. At the same time, Mr. Bush will also demand that future donor states (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in particular) follow through on their commitments to aid reconstruction efforts in the West Bank and Gaza — promises that were frequently broken in the past.

These are difficult challenges, to be sure. But Mr. Bush’s prestige and persuasive power have been greatly strengthened by the successful military campaign in Iraq. Rarely will any American president find himself in a stronger position to press for sweeping change, which will lead in the long run to a more peaceful, stable Middle East.


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