While Mubarak talks, and Bush criticizes Arafat:

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Sharon is the one who decides

        The Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, came to Washington, last week, for talks with President Bush about how to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He proposed that a Palestinian state be announced at the beginning of next year on the Palestinian areas agreed on as areas A and B, according to the Oslo agreements. Then, the Palestinian state and the Israeli state enter negotiations on final-status issues, like refugees, Jerusalem, borders, and water. President Mubarak urged Israel to withdraw its forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in order to end confrontations with the Palestinian people. He also urged the Israeli government to stop settlement activities, which obstruct any peaceful resolution of the conflict. Finally, President Mubarak wanted President Bush to lower his criticism of President Yassir Arafat.

           Mubarak came to Washington as the President of the most populated Arab state, which was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, actually one of the two Arab states which did so. So, he is under a continuous pressure from the Egyptian people and the Arab street to do something because of his relations with Israel. More important is that Egypt is the second highest recipient of US aid, after Israel. Thus, Mubarak cannot afford not to come to Washington to offer his views about how the conflict can be resolved, or managed. Finally, after Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia had proposed his peace initiative, which was adopted by the Beirut Arab summit conference, Mubarak could not afford not to do something to regain some of the Arab leadership role lost to Abdallah. So, what has Mubarak achieved?

          President Bush has not stopped his criticism of the beleaguered Palestinian President. He even expressed his usual "disappointment" of Arafat, in front of Mubarak, at Camp David. This should have been very painful for Mubarak, who arrived directly after Israeli occupation forces had attacked Arafat's office, damaging his bedroom this time. Mubarak defended Arafat, reminding President Bush that Israel had destroyed the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority. He wondered how can Arafat does his job when Israel destroyed the Palestinian security forces infrastructure?! Indirectly, Mubarak was saying that Bush's continuous criticism of Arafat is unfair, particularly without criticizing Israeli continuous aggression against the Palestinian people. President Bush also did not agree on Mubarak's suggestion, the timetable, for the establishment of the Palestinian state. Instead, he said that this should take three or four more years! For Arabs generally, and Palestinians in particular, this means three or four more years of bloodshed, destruction, and suffering. In effect, Bush was saying that he cannot decide that. The Israelis do.

            What is truly amazing is that President Bush has no longer demanded Israel to stop its daily raids on Palestinian cities and villages, killing and arresting them indiscriminately, destroying their property, and actually causing a total halt in the Palestinian economy. Probably he does not want to be in the same situation he found himself in, during the Israeli military campaign in April, when the Jenin massacre was committed. He kept demanding Israel to "withdraw," "withdraw now," "withdraw without delay," and "withdraw immediately." Sharon did not even bother to reply.

            Sharon is coming to meet with President Bush on Monday. Most likely, he wants the US approval of removing Arafat. That is all what Sharon is interested in, right now. This will be victory for him and will enable him to defeat his rival, Netanyaho, easily next elections. How can Sharon disregard anything that President Bush may suggest, like the proposed conference or the Palestinian state? The answer is in the overwhelming support Israel has in the US government. The Congress has just passed a legislation pledging support for Israel and condemning the Palestinian President. More important is that various US government departments are still suffering from the absence of checks and balances. They lack the presence of Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans to counterbalance the influence of Pro-Israel senior officials. Until a major reform happens in the US government to remedy this anomaly, only Sharon can decide while others can talk, suggest, and propose.

Hassan El-Najjar