Rice woos Arabs (Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal)
Rice woos Arabs
Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State of the most powerful country, the USA in company of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has visited Middle East immediately after a visit by the former UK Premier Tony Blair ostensibly to boost Middle East peace. Her itinerary included visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and West Bank.
As per the game-plan of the USA-Israel Hamas is to be ignored totally and some Arab nations seem to support that argument. Armed with the so-called democracy goal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the Middle East from July 30 to August 2, 2007. During her stops in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, she was accompanied by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; the two met with their counterparts to discuss the ways in which Iraq's neighbors can help advance the cause of security and stability in that country. While in Sharm el-Sheikh, Secretary Rice met with the Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Egypt, and Jordan to consult on regional issues. Secretary Rice also traveled to Jerusalem and Ramallah for meetings with Israel and Palestinian officials that will continue discussions on the development of a political horizon. Obviously, the Middle East Peace Conference slated for the fall was the main thrust of Rice visit to the region now and the Palestine issue is the uppermost in the deliberations she held in these countries, besides the Iraqi crisis. Her meetings in the West Bank ended a three-day swing through the region that included stops in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where she pressed for Arab support for the conference. Rice’s trip was the first high-level American visit to Israel and the West Bank since the Gaza takeover.
Rice has already visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where she sought to allay Arab fears of chaos in the region in the event of a US withdrawal from Iraq. Rice held meetings with Israeli leaders, including Olmert and President Shimon Peres. Later on 02 August, She also traveled to the West Bank, to meet Palestinian Authority president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. It is Rice's first visit since the Hamas movement defeated Fatah to seize control of the Gaza Strip in June. While Israel keeps terrorizing the Palestinians with air-strikes killing civilians, USA accuses Hamas of denying Israel's right to exist, and its victory in Gaza deals a serious blow to Bush's strategic vision of a two-state, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace.
Busy with “resolving” the crisis in Iraq, the USA has unveiled a project to bring the Gulf States to the rescue of the US-led forces. Saudi Arabia has pledged to explore the possibility of starting diplomatic relations with the Shia-led government in Iraq, a move long sought by the US. World’s memory, according to the US beliefs, is short! As Iraqi leader was caught and put on his own defense, US had declared that Shia community would be brought to power and it was executed before Saddam himself was inhumanly executed.
Saudi Arabia has not had an embassy in Baghdad since the first Gulf War in 1990, despite pressure from the US after its forces led the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Sunni Muslim-ruled Saudi Arabia's has criticized the post-Saddam system in Baghdad for reducing Sunni Arab influence and increasing that of regional rival Iran. The Saudi foreign minister told the visiting US secretaries of state and defense he would send an envoy to Iraq. Rice called it an important step and thanked Prince Saud al-Faisal. Prince Saud also said Riyadh supported and would attend a Middle East peace conference proposed by President George W Bush later this year. Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic ties with Israel and correspondents say the conservative kingdom's presence at a peace conference alongside Israel would be a major diplomatic breakthrough.
Condoleezza Rice, embracing an appointed Palestinian prime minister here in the West Bank, said that the United States still supported democracy in the Middle East. But she defended the American refusal to recognize the earlier, elected, Hamas-led government. Standing next to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, during a news conference here, Rice said, “We believe strongly in the right of people to express themselves and their desires, in elections.” But, she added, once elected, “you have the obligation to govern responsibly.” Of course she forgets that the Bush administration elected to rule the country has spent its time in wars and threats.
Rice’s visit further cemented the arms ties with Middle East The meeting with Arab leaders at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, took place amid controversy over a huge US arms deal for allies in the region. Since Iran’s nuclear move has caused concerns in Arab nations, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have signed arms dealings with the USA, their traditional ally which also supplies more advanced weapon systems to Israel for use against Palestine and Lebanon as well as sale to third countries like India. "There is an international movement... Israel should respond to these pressures," the prince said. Before the tour began, the US offered a $20bn (£9.9bn) arms package to Arab Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, which is the world's biggest oil-producer. Egypt will receive $13bn, while Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and UAE are expected to share $20bn. The $63bn (£31bn) weapons package was criticized by a German foreign ministry official, as well as Iran, Syria and Hamas. . Hamas and Hezbollah have seen a plan game through this arms sale giving rise to a new arms race in the region.
The weapons deal, however, has proved controversial in the US and two Democratic congressmen have already said they will introduce legislation to block it. It has been the policy of USA to first threaten the countries which it seeks business before it finalizes it. Prince Saud said he was "astounded" by recent remarks by US ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, in which he accused Saudi Arabia of undermining efforts to stabilize war-ravaged Iraq.
Since Hamas took control of Gaza, the US and Arab League have sought to isolate the group by offering strong support for Abbas' Fatah-led emergency government. Since then, Abbas — and the US-led world — have largely left Gaza to itself to be governed by Hamas, focusing aid and diplomatic efforts on the West Bank, where Abbas’s Fatah forces remain in control. The United States, Israel and the European Union have all welcomed the dissolution of the Palestinian government by Hamas. Bush quickly unfroze $86 million in aid, which was put into the deep freeze after Hamas won the 2006 elections. Israel has released Palestinian prisoners and transferred millions of dollars in frozen tax receipts to the Palestinian Authority as goodwill gestures to bolster Abbas. But the BBC's Bethany Bell in Jerusalem said it is not clear if Israel is yet ready to discuss major issues like borders, settlements, the future of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. On 02 August, Rice signed a so-called framework agreement with Mr. Fayyad, which ostensibly released the first $10 million in aid. The money is intended to strengthen Abbas’s security forces.
Rice justifies what the present US regime has done, saying that the United States and other Western nations had been right to boycott Hamas and the elected Palestinian government. “You can’t have one foot in the path of terror and one foot in the path of politics,” she added. Rice met with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister selected by Abbas after he ousted the Hamas-led government. Hamas won a legislative majority in January 2006, but Fatah never agreed to accept it, and the United States and Israel refused to deal with Hamas, which they classify as a terrorist organization, unless it accepted Israel’s right to exist and agreed to give up violence. President Abbas of Fatah has been seeking to consolidate his power since a June coup left the rival Hamas movement in power in the Gaza Strip. He has held out the prospect of new elections soon. He appointed Mr. Fayyad after firing the Hamas-led government of Ismail Haniya.
Keen to promote the Abbas regime, Rice said it was up to the Palestinians to decide when to hold a new vote, but the Americans, like the Israelis, have told Abbas they will not accept a renewal of a unity government with Hamas. Abbas said Thursday that he would not try to reconcile with Hamas unless they “reverse everything they did” and “apologize to the Palestinian people — then we might reconsider.” It would be nearly impossible for Abbas to hold an early vote unless Hamas agreed to one. Condoleezza Rice, embracing an appointed Palestinian prime minister here in the West Bank, said on 2 August that the United States still supported Abbas.
Abbas told Rice that he was ready to work with Israel on a “declaration of principles” as an interim step toward a full peace agreement, an idea floated last week by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel. Such a declaration, as envisioned by Israel, would outline the contours of a future Palestinian state, without immediately tackling the most explosive issues, like final borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Abbas said that once such a declaration had been negotiated, “what is important is that we arrive at a result and that we know what that result is, what is the roof that we need to reach, but the stages of implementation can be agreed on later.”
Rice headed to Jerusalem from Saudi Arabia, where she and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates went after meeting Arab leaders in Egypt to discuss Iraq. "We welcome this initiative," Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a news conference with Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Israel will receive the lion's share of the military aid - a $30bn package over 10 years, representing a 25% increase from present levels. Separately on 1-2 August Rice met with Mr. Olmert and other senior Israeli officials to discuss plans for Bush’s fall conference on Palestinian-Israeli peace. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the most delicate issues should not be addressed immediately. In a statement, Olmert praised the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who said that his country was leaning toward attending the Middle East meeting, but wanted it to be substantive. Olmert “shares the same approach, that the international meeting will be serious and meaningful, and he welcomes the participation of leaders of Arab countries in the meeting,” his office said. But Israeli officials also emphasized that, unlike the Saudis, the Israelis believe that the core issues of the conflict should be discussed in a bilateral format with the Palestinians, rather than in an international framework that might make them more difficult to solve.
A spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, criticized the Rice visit and the release of the aid. “She came to incite one Palestinian side against another,” he said. “She came to provide $80 million to stamp out resistance forces. Rice did not come to the region to establish a Palestinian state, as she and her master Bush claimed, but instead she came to support one Palestinian party against another, and to support the Zionist occupation.” Later, Rice discussed the matter with Olmert, agreeing to "keep Hamas out of the game" on all levels, said Israeli government spokesman David Baker. Their words confirmed what has been an increasingly obvious strategy: Isolate the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip while lavishing money, and political legitimacy on Abbas and his new government. Olmert recently floated the idea of a joint declaration on the contours of a Palestinian state, and Abbas said last week he hopes to reach a full peace deal with Israel within a year.
The Palestinians have been pushing for a resumption of negotiations with Israel on a final peace deal, something Israel has been reluctant to agree to. Instead, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been talking in general about the contours of a future Palestinian state. Rice met with the entire Palestinian Fatah Cabinet, a gesture of support for the team of moderates that replaced the Hamas government after Hamas seized Gaza by force following the dismissal of Hams led government by president Abbas. Rice met separately with Fayyad, and then was introduced to his team of ministers. Rice addressed the Cabinet in the room where it holds its regular meetings. Palestinian officials said the key item on the Rice-Abbas agenda is a Mideast peace conference set for the fall. The officials said they want the conference, announced last month by President Bush, to yield real results, not just agreement on holding more meetings.
Abbas impressed Rice upon the need for Israel to start withdrawing troops from West Bank cities and restore the control of the Palestinian security forces there.
In previous meetings, Abbas and Olmert agreed in principle to the idea, but the Israeli military is concerned a troop pullback will increase risks of renewed attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel will push quickly for a political settlement with the larger West Bank. Israel does not want to leave the places where they are comfortably settled down. “The implementation of any kind of understanding between Israel and the Palestinian government can be in accordance to the places of the territories in which there is an effective government," Livni said. There lies the crux of the problem.
The Rice Middle East tour has indeed generated a lot enthusiasm all round the world as if it wound find a final solution to the Palestine issue. The Rice visit to Gulf nations indicates just one thing: in view of the tacit support the new plan excluding Hamas seems to have received even from a few Arab nations, the USA is keen to keep Abbas in power and keep Hamas out of Palestine heartland politics, come what may. A fragile unity among the Arab nations cannot but be capitalized by the USA and the Quartet. If Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy also does not support the true cause of the Palestinians and avoid Hamas, the forthcoming Peace Conference brokered by the USA would make all efforts to achieve just that. Whether the plan is to create two Palestines or single Palestine by keeping Hamas out won’t stay for too long and the Arabs would realize that in due course, even though they wouldn’t repent.
DR.ABDUL RUFF Colachal
A freelance writer.