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Arab Nations Lost in a Pit of Desperation

A few days ago, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called upon the “conscience” of the American people to help the Palestinians. The Emir of Qatar went one step further in self-abasement. The Arabs, he said – and he apologised for using the word – had to “beg” the United States to use its influence on the Israelis. Truly, when such words are uttered, it is the very pit of Arab desperation.

Beg? Conscience? Washington may still turn down Ariel Sharon’s request to break all relations with Yasser Arafat, but President Bush has long ago forgotten his “vision” of a Palestinian state – produced when he needed Arab acquiescence in the bombardment of Afghanistan but swiftly buried once it had served its purpose – and Arafat’s role now is to remember his job: to protect Israel from his own people.

From his office in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks, Arafat fantasises about his derring-do during Israel’s 1982 siege of West Beirut, but it is difficult to underestimate the degree of shame with which many Palestinians now regard him. Last Christmas, Arafat insisted that he would march to Bethlehem to attend church services. But when the Israelis refused him permission, he merely appeared on Palestinian television and preposterously claimed that Israel’s refusal was a “crime” and an act of “terrorism”.

Why, the Arabic daily Al Quds al-Arabi asked, was there no explanation for this “bizarre and incomprehensible” performance by Arafat? Why did he not march out of Ramallah with the Christian clerics who had come to give their support until physically stopped by Israeli troops in front of the television cameras? The more he talks about Israel’s “terrorism”, the less we examine his own record of corruption, cronyism and brutality.

In the meantime, Israel’s own mythmaking goes on apace. In New York, Shimon Peres announces the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon and the arrival of 8,000 long-range missiles for Hizbollah; now there hasn’t been an Iranian militiaman in Lebanon for 15 years, and the “new” missiles don’t exist – but this nonsense is reported in the US media without the slightest attempt to check the facts.

The latest whopper came from Sharon. He regretted, he said, that he had not “liquidated” Arafat during the 1982 siege of Beirut, but there had been an agreement not to do so. This is rubbish; during the siege, Israeli jets five times bombed the buildings in which Sharon, then Israel’s defence minister, believed Arafat to be hiding, on two occasions destroying whole apartment blocks – along, of course, with all the civilians living in them – only minutes after Arafat had left. Again, Sharon’s untrue version of history was reported in the American press as fact.

Indeed, all the participants in the Middle East conflict are now engaged in a game of self-deception, a massive and fraudulent attempt to avoid any examination of the critical issues that lie behind the tragedy. The Saudis want to appeal to America’s “conscience”, not because they are upset at Arafat’s predicament but because 15 of the 11 September hijackers were themselves Saudis. Sharon’s attempt to join in the “war against terror” – the manufacturing of non-existent Iranian enemies in Lebanon, for example, along with some very real enemies in the West Bank and Gaza – is a blatant attempt to ensure American support for his crushing of the Palestinian intifada and for the continuation of Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land.

Similarly, Mr Bush’s messianic claim that he is fighting “evil” – “evil” now apparently being a fully-fledged nation-state – and that America’s al-Qa’ida enemies hate America because they are “against democracy” is poppycock. Most of America’s Muslim enemies don’t know what democracy is – they have certainly never enjoyed it – and their deeds, which are indeed wicked, have motives.

Mr Bush knows, and certainly his secretary of state, Colin Powell, does, that there is an intimate link between the crimes against humanity of 11 September and the Middle East. After all, the killers were all Arabs, they wrote and spoke Arabic, they came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon. This much we are allowed to reflect upon.

But the moment anyone takes the next logical step and looks at the Arab world itself, we step on forbidden territory. For any analysis of the current Middle East will encounter injustice and violence and death, often the result – directly or indirectly – of the policies of the United States and its regional allies (Arab as well as Israeli).

At this point, all discussion must cease. Because if America’s own involvement in the region – its unconditional support for Israel, its acquiescence in the Jewish colonisation of Arab land, the sanctions against Iraq that have killed so many tens of thousands of children – and the very lack of that democracy that Mr Bush thinks is under attack suggest that America’s own actions might have something to do with the rage and fury that generated the mass murders of 11 September, then we are on very dangerous territory indeed.

When a crime has been committed – even the most banal domestic killing – the first thing the cops do is look for a motive. But with this most terrible of all crimes, normal procedures are not permitted. Motive is the last thing we can search for. To do so, to discuss the environment from which the murderers came, then becomes “anti-American” or “anti-Semitic” – and thus, of course, a taboo subject. Which it is meant to be.

And oddly, the Arab regimes go along with all this. The Arab people do not – they know full well what lies behind the dreadful deeds of 11 September – but the leadership has to pretend ignorance. It supports the “war on terrorism” and then asks – begs – America to recognise a difference between “terrorism” and “national resistance”. The Saudis wilfully ignore the implications of their own citizens’ involvement, howling instead about a “Jewish conspiracy” against Saudi Arabia. Arafat says he supports the “war on terrorism” and then – let us not kid ourselves – permits his acolytes to try a gun-running operation on the Karine A.

And Sharon, hopelessly unable to protect his people from the cruel Palestinian suicide bombers, concentrates on presenting the intifada as “world terror” rather than the nationalist uprising that it represents. After all, if it’s about nationalism, it’s also about Israeli occupation and, like American policy in the region, that is not to be discussed.

At the end of next month, the Arab presidents and princes are to hold a summit in Beirut. They will issue ringing declarations of support for the Palestinians and almost equally earnest support for a war against “terrorism”. They cannot criticise US policy, however outrageous they believe it to be, because they are almost all beholden to it. So they will appeal again to America’s conscience. And they will do what the Emir of Qatar did a few days ago. They will beg. And they will get nothing.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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