|Southwest Asia News Digest
Sharon-Abbas Summit Set for June 21
Following a June 2 meeting between Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat (also a long-time close associate of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat), and two top aides to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel SharonDov Weisglass and Shalom Turgemanit was announced that a summit meeting between Sharon and PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will take place on June 2; the location was not specified.
This upcoming summitattributed to pressure from Washington on Sharon, who has refused other such meetingsmay be a valuable side effect of lame-duck President George W. Bush's increasing desperation on almost every front: Iraq, Social Security privatization, the Republican Party revolt, etc. According to two well-placed Middle East sources based in Washington, Bush was forced, by virtue of his abysmal record, especially since the November 2004 election, to try to accomplish some tangible result in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That involves making Sharon deliver on his Gaza withdrawal, and actually providing the $50 million to the Palestinian Authority, which Bush promised to the Palestinian President, during Abbas's visit to the White House May 26.
If Bush does not deliver the $50 million to the PA, reported an Arab source, then there is a good chance that Hamas will make significant strides in the upcoming parliamentary elections, now scheduled for July, in advance of the Gaza pullout. Bush's promise, during a White House press appearance was explicit; he said: "To help ensure that the Gaza disengagement is a success, the United States will provide to the Palestinian Authority $50 million to be used for new housing and infrastructure projects in the Gaza. These funds will be used to improve the quality of life of the Palestinians living in Gaza where poverty and unemployment are very high." It remains to be seen if Bush will actually turn to funds over to the PA.
Bush also announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah before the beginning of the Israeli withdrawal.
As American statesman Lyndon LaRouche has insisted, since he drafted the economic peace proposal for Israel and Palestine known as "The Oasis Plan" in 1975, only economic development and infrastructure, will provide a permanent peace. But Bush's $50 million is a mere token, which sources close to the Saudi royal family say is amplified by a Saudi contribution to the Gaza Strip that is in the order of $250 million. The Saudi aid to Gaza was arranged during Crown Prince Abdullah's visit to Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch on April 25.
Sharon, Israeli Right Not Happy with Bush Treatment of Abbas
The May 26 visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House was the occasion of a policy statement by President George W. Bush to a Rose Garden news conference, which provoked Israeli right-wingers and members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government, to demand a virtual "retraction" in the form of "clarifications." One day after the new conference, reported the U.S. national Jewish newspaper Forward, a National Security Council official called "the Washington correspondent of Israel's government-run radio and television stations," to tell them there had been "no change" in U.S. policy from the April 2004 letter that Bush gave to Sharon during his visit there. But, the May 2005 statements definitely put Sharon on the line about returning to the Road Map, and the nation of Israel on notice that the final border between the Israeli and Palestinian states could only be established on the basis of being "mutually agreed to."
Bush's statement was uncharacteristically clear about Israel's obligations, as viewed by the U.S., though Sharon and Co. are trying to take maximum advantage of the "wiggle room," provided by Bush's linking of Israel's actions to its "security." Since 2001, Sharon has used the "security" issue to block any peace negotiations with the PA.
With President Abbas at his side, Bush made clear demands in several areas:
"Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes Road Map obligations or prejudice[s] final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Therefore, Israel must remove unauthorized outposts and stop settlement expansion." [This is a direct assault on the Sharon plan to link the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumin which is east of the city, by building thousands of new homes in the corridor that links the settlement to Jerusalem.]
"The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of its security effort must be a security rather than political barrier. And its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities." [This would mean giving back the hundreds of square miles of Palestinian farmland and other properties have already been seized and placed behind the barrier, which is known as the Berlin Wall of the Middle East.]
"As we make progress toward security and in accordance with the Road Map, Israeli forces should withdraw to their positions on September the 28th, 2000." [This would return the Israeli forces to the positions before Sharon took over the government].
"Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to." [This could be in major conflict with Bush's April 2004 letter to Sharon, which allowed for Israel to depart from the 1949 armistice line, and which made no mention of the "mutual" consent of the Israelis and Palestinians.]
"A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity on the West Bank and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza." [This puts a major constraint on the Sharon government's attempt to manipulate the vague formulation that Bush has used before which recognizes the "facts on the ground," i.e., that Jewish settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories, must be respected. Sharon had asserted that Bush has allowed for Israel to keep all their West Bank settlements.]
"This is the position of the United States today. It will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.... The imminent Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank presents an opportunity to lay the ground work for a return to the Road Map." [This is a direct refutation of the statements made by Sharon's closest adviser, Dov Weisglass, that the Gaza withdrawal is a means to ensure that peace negotiations that include giving up the West Bank will never take place.]
U.S. Arrests Sunni Leader of Gov't Party 'by Mistake'
On May 30, in a dawn military raid, involving guard dogs, and armed U.S. soldiers, Mohsen Abdel Hamid, the Sunni leader of the Islamic Party, which is part of the Iraqi government, was arrested by U.S. authorities in Iraq, along with his three sons. They were seized in their home, hooded, and taken away by U.S. forces. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani condemned the action, and called for Abdel Hamid's immediate release. "The Presidential Council has not been consulted ... and feels that treating a political personality of this level in such an arbitrary way is unacceptable," said a statement.
Hamid was then released on May 31, but said he had no news about his sons. They were subsequently freed.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari issued a statement saying: "The Iraqi government welcomes the news of Abdel Hamid's release and stresses its deep concern about the detention of senior political figures who support the political process and Sunni participation in it."
Though U.S. military authorities admitted that the arrest was a mistake, they have not apologized, drawing further criticism from Abdel Hamid and other Iraqi leaders, who frequently encounter such U.S. behavior.
Arab sources placed the event in the context of a complex, ongoing process of behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place between moderate Sunni forces (who are in direct contact with the resistance) and government people. The effort involves the Islamic Party, and the Sunni representatives, including those in the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS). The aim is to reach an agreement whereby the armed conflict would end, and the Sunnis would be given a fair share of power. To bring this about, the radical wing of the armed struggle, identified as "al-Zarqawi," and made up largely of elements from outside Iraq, would have to be dismantled, eliminated, or sent outside the country. This group, made up of foreign elements, is the one responsible for brutal attacks against civilians, in market places, mosques, etc. It can operate in Iraq only with the help of Iraqis; thus, to eliminate them, it would be required to cut off their logistics, intelligence and supply lines, and/or eliminate their leadership.
It is in this context that reports and rumors have been circulating over the past several weeks, about the condition and whereabouts of al-Zarqawi: It was said he had been severely wounded, and lay in some hospital; that a succession fight had broken out among his followers; then, from al-Qaeda sources, that he was alive and well, only slightly wounded; then, that he had left Iraq.
The talk about al-Zarqawi reflects the negotiating process going on, and the conflicting statements indicate the ups and downs, as well as factional viewpoints, in that process. The conflicting statements also point to a split in the Sunni camp. This has been exacerbated by attacks against Sunni moderates, by groups that can only be called hit squads. The AMS has accused the Badr Brigades of the Shi'ite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), of targetted assassinations.
The detention of Hamid is seen by Arab observers as an outright provocation, aimed at obviously disturbing or sabotaging this delicate reconciliation process. Although U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently spoke out in favor of Sunni participation in the political process, it appears that the U.S. government does not want it to work.
That a serious effort towards reconciliation is afoot, is clear also in the fact that radical Shi'ite militia leader Moqtadar al-Sadr has been negotiating with some Sunni figures. Furthermore, Arabic media report that a covenant of honor has been signed by al-Sadr and other groups, a "Mithaq Sharaf," which is an agreement not to shed the blood of brethren Iraqis.