January 18, 2002
 Churches for Middle East Peace E-mail network
FROM:  Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP Director


by Corinne Whitlatch, Director of Churches for Middle East Peace

The new year begins with the anti-terror campaign consuming policy makers and public opinion. The impact of this global action on the many Middle East related issues addressed by the PCUSA could be groundbreaking. However, only speculation is possible as the ramifications are complex and unintended consequences can be expected.   Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinians continue their bloody conflict even as the United States envoy, General Zinni, seeks calm and a restoration of hope in negotiations.

There will be new attention given to the view, long-held by the CMEP member churches and organizations, that the best hope of addressing this conflict lies in U.S. cooperation with other partners, especially through the United Nations.  This could be the most significant change in many years.  The internationalization of the peace process is most likely to begin with gradually increased engagement by the European Union or maybe even by NATO, perhaps in the form of monitors or observers to encourage a cessation of violence.

The Mitchell Committee recommendations continue to be touted as the roadmap back to negotiations despite the fact that after seven months not a single point has been implemented.  But the fact remains that this committee had a multinational composition and mandate that could lead the way for the United States and Israel to accept broader international involvement.

With the U.S. sponsored Oslo peace process in shambles, some important experts are advising that now it is necessary for third parties to lay out at the beginning a precise and complete vision of peace. As Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in a New York Times op-ed on December 24, "There can only be one outcome if there is to be genuine peace: the coexistence of the state of Israel with the state of Palestine, in a setting in which the former is secure and the latter is viable."  In citing a "remarkable degree of international consensus as to what a fair peace would entail," he refers to the Powell speech in October, the transcripts from the Taba negotiations in January 2001, Barakís proposals in September 2000 and UNSC resolutions 242 and 338.  President Bushís reference to Palestine, in his speech to the UN in November, could signal the beginning of a new approach.

POTENTIAL FOR WORSENING OF CONFLICT:  The conjecture that Israeli Prime Minister Sharonís strategy is to promote a Palestinian civil war, or leaderless chaos, could prove to be tragically correct. This would certainly prevent the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and painful compromises on final status issues.

The view promoted by supporters of Israel that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is to blame for the breakdown in negotiations and is not a suitable partner for peacemaking encourages his demise or exile. The U.S. Congress will probably continue in its efforts to discredit Arafat and to restrict the Administration in dealing with him.  But, if Arafatís leadership crumbles, the most likely successor would come from the ranks of the militant Islamic movement.  Violence against Israel, and within Palestinian society, threatens to escalate in 2002 unless a way is found to restore hope in political processes.

With the Palestinian economy nearly destroyed and civil society made comatose by Israelís blockade of Palestinian cities, the temptation to emigrate will be intense for Palestinian Christians who have relatives abroad.  Jordan, where a majority of the population claim Palestinian heritage, fears that if Israel reoccupies the West Bank cities now under the Palestinian Authority there will be another wave of Palestinian refugees into Jordan.

The specter of a widening war that engulfs Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt haunts the region.  In each there could be civil conflict between government forces and outraged resident Palestinian refugees and/or Islamist militants.

While the uncertainties in 2002 are numerous and prominent, the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely dangerous and destabilizing even beyond the region is a certainty that brings an end to the hands-off strategy of the Bush Administration.

For a number of years there has been a stalemate in decision making about U.S. policy in Iraq.  A review of sanctions on Iraq, with an expectation of ending the economic sanctions while reinvigorating military-related sanctions, was an initial policy objective of Secretary of State Powell that became dormant.  The chorus of policy hawks demanding "regime change" have turned up the volume with the new anti-terrorism campaign.  Even though no evidence currently points to the significant involvement of Iraq in the September 11 attacks,  many on Capitol Hill and on TV-talk shows advocate going to war to displace Saddam Hussein.

But, it is feared that international support for the war on terrorism would fall if the United States took this act unilaterally.  Militants in Arab and Islamic majority countries would incite people against not only the United States, but also against governments such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia who cooperate with the U.S.

But, as Leon Fuerth, the national security adviser to former Vice President Gore, wrote in the New York Times (January 4), "Americaís choices are not limited to attack or neglect. We should reheat the demand for international inspectors and return to the Security Council for smart sanctions," the term that Powell used.  The best case scenario would be if a new international effort to control Iraqís weapons of mass destruction launched a regional WMD control initiative.

U.S. RELATIONS WITH IRAN LIKELY TO WARM:  Despite the hostile rhetoric and legislative initiatives that flow from certain quarters in both Washington and Tehran,  there are pragmatists and idealists in both countries that are working to open the way for normalization and more. The fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran is no friend of its neighbor Iraq nor of the Taliban is now seen positively by the U.S. government.

Because of its size and resources, Iran is a major regional power and a key player in the contest to bring to market the Caspian Sea petrochemical resources.  Right now U.S. companies are prohibited by U.S. law from engaging in Iranís oil business.  It is likely that the restrictions on U.S. business involvement in Iran will be modified or ended, but not without strong opposition from Congress.  However as the year begins, the warming of U.S.-Iranian relations is jeopardized by news reports of Iran being the source of 50 tons of weapons destined for Gaza, with or without Arafatís knowledge, and seized by Israel .

SHIFTING ALLIANCES: The loose coalition pulled together by the Bush Administration for the initial phase in Afghanistan of the global war on terrorism will not remain static.  The onslaught of criticism of the Saudi regime following discovery of the many connections between the Al Qaeda network and Saudi Arabia will have consequences in Washington.  This new scrutiny of the U.S.-Saudi relationship brings to open question the wisdom of the U.S. placement of its military bases there, and the reluctance of the U.S. to encourage democratic governance by the Saudi regime or to demand compliance with international norms of human rights.

The general thrust of U.S. policy in the region has been to bolster cooperative regimes with armaments and military partnerships, press them to support Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and turn a blind eye to their heavy handed repression of domestic critics and minority groups. Now with angry populaces linking their domestic grievances with U.S. support for their governments, there could be a reconsideration of  what U.S. policies actually foster stability. The view long promoted by the churches just might be adopted; that all people should enjoy full religious freedom and equality of citizenship as well as the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.

FOREIGN AID: The soon-to-come demands for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and rewards to those neighboring and cooperating states are most likely to further deplete funds that might have gone to impoverished countries in the Middle East and Africa.  Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa from 1997 to 2001, in a New York Times column on December 11, says that in order to prevent that "we must dramatically increase resources in the Foreign Operations accounts to help would-be partners in Africa."  This is not likely given the state of the economy and the booming budget increase expected for defense and intelligence agencies.

However, she does not even suggest that the Administration or Congress could reallocate funds earmarked for Israelís and Egyptís militaries toward the needs of, what Rice calls the incubator of the foot soldiers of terrorism, Africa.  That suggestion is not heard in the halls of government nor in those of InterAction, an umbrella organization for many of the non-governmental organizations that bid for contracts from the Agency for International Development (AID.) It is expected that Congress will cut aid to Egypt, a move championed by the powerful lead Republican on the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The Administration did resist rewarding Israel with the $800 million promised by President Clinton for its withdrawal from Lebanon and has indicated it will not do so in 2002.  Aid to the Palestinians, $75 million in 2001, will probably be maintained in 2002 with additional restrictions likely.

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