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Arafat Won't Go to Arab Summit in Beirut (Post, March 26, 2002)
Special Report: War and Peace in the Mideast
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Middle East
With Clovis Maksoud
Former U.N. Ambassador &
American University Professor

Friday, March 29, 2002; 11 a.m. EST

"As Israeli moved tanks and fighting vehicles into place for what officials said would be a massive assault on Yasser Arafat's main West Bank base of Ramallah, the Palestinian leader issued an urgent, televised appeal for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire on Thursday." Read the full story: "Israelis Prepare Retaliation; Arafat Appeals for Cease-Fire," (Post, March 28).

Clovis Maksoud, American University professor and former ambassador of the League of Arab States at the United Nations, was online to discuss the Middle East, the latest wave of violence and Arafat's call for a cease-fire.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Clovis Maksoud: The Israeli encroachment brings the situation to the brink of a real crisis which warrants instant intervention by the international community to deter this reckless undertaking that Sharon has done.

What we are finding is that an intersection between the unanimous peace proposal of the Arab States in Beirut, the unraveling and ruthless attempt at reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the encircling of Chairman Arafat's home and offices in a most provocative manner in order to further humiliate him can lead to dangerous consequences, not only to the Israeli-Palestinian situation but also to the entire regions' stability. This warrants immediate intervention. We must ask the Security Council to adopt an urgent resolution to deploy a mechanism of observation, monitoring and shielding of the Palestinians. This is a seriously dangerous situation.

Frederick, Md.: How big a role are personal animosities between Sharon and Arafat playing in this personal coflict? Would new leadership on one side or the other make it easier to move the peace process forward? If that's the case. What are the chances that we will see that new leadership emerge?

Clovis Maksoud: Arafat has repeatedly said that he will deal with any government provided that there is a clear outcome that leads to the independence of a Palestinian state. Unfortunately it seems that the only one he has had some sort of rapport with was former Prime Minister Rabin. Arafat deals with whoever represents the Israeli government. As far as animosity -- it is proven now that Sharon holds deep animosity.

washingtonpost.com: Join Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Regev Live Online today at Noon.

Washington, D.C.: Thank you for being here, Mr. Maksoud. What is your opinion as to the extent of Arafat's control over Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

He seems to not be making any real effort to denounce these groups (in Arabic) or seriously go after them. I understand that the destruction of the PA's jails by Israel in the last few weeks has hampered his ability to arrest militants, but he has had plenty of other opportunities before the attacks on his buildings (and in the last few days) to do something. If he really wanted peace, he would reign in these groups and show Israel that he is a leader who has the power not only to negotiate peace, but to maintain it as well.

Clovis Maksoud: The control is dependant on the credibility and the feasibility of a political outcome. Arafat's ability to deliver on a political outcome was undermined by the institutional destruction of the Palestinian Authority all over the occupied territories. Where at one time he might not have had total control, at this moment there is a renewed national unity and there is a rallying around Arafat because he has regained his symbolic unity of the national people.

Israelis have been undermining Arafat's authority. Israel is behaving as if it is the claiming power. The problem with the Israelis is that they never accepted the fact that they are an occupying power and therefore that they are accountable to the Geneva Convention in the Palestinian territories. Arafat has condemned and imprisoned those who have undertaken attacks on civilians, but there is no ability for Arafat to have a cease-fire that is not linked to a political outcome.

This is not the moment to revisit the past, but the time to spell out a credible and peaceful future.

Philadelphia, Pa.: You say: "The Israeli encroachment brings the situation into the brink of a real crisis..."

Wouldn't it be fair to say that the Palestinian terrorist attacks (particularly the recent Passover bombing) have brought on the crisis, and not just the Israeli response?

Clovis Maksoud: Unfortunately violence breads violence. The encroachment that has taken place for the last 35 years has dampened the prospects of a cohesive Arab-Palestinian State immerging and have brought people to the brink of hopelessness. Hopelessness breads recklessness and terrorist acts. Despicable as they might be and condemnable as they should be, it is an act of despair while resistance, as the mainstream of Palestinians are doing, is an invitation to dialogue. That is why the Palestinian Authority has undertaken 10 years of dialogue with Israel.

In the last few weeks and months what we have experienced is the encroachment on refuge camps and the humiliation of people. Israeli behavior patterns have disabled the Palestinian Authority with the hope of an immerging Palestinian state. That has disabled the Palestinian Authority from having the full control to which it is entitled. These acts of terrorism are the sporadic reactions of despair. The state sponsored terrorism by Israeli are the deliberate plans of a government policy.

Bangalore, India: Do you think Arab states are today willing to accept the reality of a Jewish state in their midst?

Clovis Maksoud: Whatever reticence there might have been, the Saudi plan, which has been unanimously adopted by the Arab states, shows that the Arabs states will do just that as long as there is a recognized Palestinian state.

Vienna, Va.: As a mediator how should the U.S. or the EU for that matter react to this situation?

Clovis Maksoud: I think that the U.S. and the EU should deter the aggression which has taken place in the last 24 hours by using their influence to deter Israel from further encroachment and to ask the Security Council to establish enforcement measures to bring about a mechanism of observation, which would shield the Palestinians from the attempts of Israel to dictate their terms and allow a dialogue parity to ensue.

Silver Spring, Md.: After Israel's attack on the PNA Ramallah Headquarters, do you think the Arabs states will still comprehensively support the Peace Proposal they agreed to yesterday?

Clovis Maksoud: I think that the provocation that has been undertaken in the last 24 hours and the reckless manner in which Sharon has shown a total contempt for the international community -- with his defiance of the U.S. request to allow Arafat to go the Arab summit -- will further create a belief throughout the Arab World that its commitment to the peace proposal is being totally rejected by the Sharon government.

It is hoped that the U.S. and the Security Council will seize the moment and intervene to protect the stability and prospects of genuine peace in the region.

Clovis Maksoud: Finally, I think that we are at a very tense moment in this situation. The Arab people and the Palestinians in particular are extremely traumatized by the events that are taking place. The Palestinians are steadfast in resisting occupation.

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company