Law of the jungle
The ripping up of agreements, the shredding of international law, has become a Washington habit. It threatens us all, writes Ibrahim Nafie
President Bush's recent assurances to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pose yet another challenge to Arab leaders who will soon meet in a rescheduled Arab Summit. I doubt whether the Bush-Sharon pact could have happened, or at least taken the form it did, had the summit convened when it was originally scheduled. Clearly, Washington and Tel Aviv read the Arabs' decision to postpone the Tunis summit as a fortuitous opening for pressing ahead with their plans.
Bush's declarations on behalf of Sharon constitute a flagrant infringement on Palestinian rights and gravely imperil the security and stability of this region. The US administration -- for that matter any other government in the world -- does not have the right to underwrite an occupying power's bid to annex territories under its occupation. The UN Charter explicitly prohibits the acquisition of land by armed force and sanctions the right of an occupied people to resist that occupation. In addition, under the Charter of the Permanent Court for Crimes of War it is a war crime for an occupying power to transfer any portion of its populace to occupied territories for the purpose of colonisation and settlement, a situation that applies to Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.
In backing Sharon's "disengagement" plan and his desire to hold on to several settlements in the West Bank Bush is also backtracking on his pledge to create an independent Palestinian state, on contiguous land, alongside Israel. Since he issued this pledge on 22 June 2002, he and his envoys to the region have continually reaffirmed their commitment to the roadmap. Taking US officials at their word, Arab powers have been doing their utmost to facilitate the implementation of this plan. Now Bush suddenly turns around, pledges his support for Sharon's schemes and promises not to countenance any other settlement plans emerging from other international quarters.
In backing the Sharon vision for a final settlement the US administration has effectively put paid to the negotiating process and condoned the right of military might to impose a unilateral solution. This solution flies in the face of all existing agreements, from Oslo, through Wye River to Taba. Under these agreements Israel must withdraw from all occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel would also have to compensate the Palestinians for any modification of the 1967 borders with an amount of land equivalent in area and quality and contiguous with Palestinian territory. Now Bush has not only assured Sharon that he can leave the Palestinians with no more than 42 per cent of the West Bank, but also that that small area will be checkered by Israeli settlements and linking roads controlled by Israeli forces.
Also in violation of international resolutions, the US president has backed Israel's rejection of the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes inside Israel, and supported its demand to control water resources in the West Bank and Palestinian borders and air space. In sum Bush has presided over an unprecedented encroachment on Palestinian rights, in defiance of the will of the international community and heedless of the impact this will have on the security and stability of the region.
Moreover, there are indications that Bush's support of Sharon will go beyond mere words. The next few days will bring to light an American drive to present a new resolution to the Security Council incorporating the Sharon vision for a unilateral settlement. In addition to annulling all previous international resolutions on Palestine, this resolution will place even heavier obligations on the PA. Bush will then crown these actions with a visit to Israel.
The current situation is extremely grave, and what the future holds in store is more perilous yet, not only for Palestinian rights but for the rights of all Arab peoples. It is obvious that Bush and Sharon see eye to eye on virtually every facet of the Arab-Israeli conflict. With regard to the Palestinian track, Washington's refusal to condemn the assassination of Abdul-Aziz Al-Rantisi is indicative of Washington's sanctioning of Israel's refusal to see Hamas or any other Palestinian resistance organisation represented in the PA. Beneath the mantra Israel has the right to defend itself, which US officials pronounce after every Israeli attack, Washington continues to give Israel the green light to persist in its assassination policy and other atrocities intended to force the Palestinians to their knees.
On another track we can anticipate that in the first week of May the Bush administration, particularly keen at this juncture to placate Congress, will move to put into effect some of the Congressionally approved package of sanctions against Syria.
Recent, and anticipated actions of the US administration place a heavy onus on Arab leaders due to convene at the Arab summit. It will be their task to formulate a strong and united position against the schemes that are currently unfolding. If the Arabs fail in this task Washington and Israel will interpret this as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to expand their schemes to embrace other Arab countries, using the "reform" card to destabilise them and rob them of their intrinsic character and identity.
Above all, the Arabs must not yield to the idea that what the Bush administration and Sharon government plan for them is inevitable. Arab leaders will have the opportunity to formulate a plan of action that can operate on many levels and capitalise on the resources and channels of communication available to each of their governments. In this regard, it is extremely important that the Arabs coordinate with the most important European powers in order to avert the potential eruption of turmoil in the Middle East. Towards this end, too, they must work to safeguard the UN's role upholding international legitimacy by activating the bonds of cooperation with other regional powers that share with us the belief that the Palestinians must obtain their legitimate rights in full and that the US administration must be prevented from subverting the established rules and principles of the international order.
It was precisely such considerations that motivated President Mubarak's visits to France and Germany on his return from the recent visit to Washington and his plans to visit Russia and South Africa in the near future. It is to be hoped that other Arab leaders will follow this lead, drawing on their own contacts with international powers, and that together we can pool our energies towards rehabilitating the framework of international legitimacy and preventing Washington and Tel Aviv from decimating the security and stability of this region.
Arab leaders, in their forthcoming summit, face the formidable challenge of formulating an effective strategy for fighting the sudden turnabout by the US administration on the question of Palestine. It is the Arabs' right to oppose Bush's assurances to Sharon and to refuse so much as to give them recognition by negotiating over them. Simultaneously, it is the Arabs' duty to press the international community, and the Quartet in particular, to abide by existing UN resolutions and to enforce the principles of international legitimacy in order to protect the Palestinian people and restore to them their internationally established rights.
Towards this end the Arabs must underscore the latent dangers of the Bush-Sharon plan. It cannot be stressed enough that this plan, if allowed to proceed, will unleash widespread despair in the efficacy of peaceful methods and the frameworks of international legitimacy, and that this despair will help fill the ranks of those groups and organisations that espouse violence as the only means to obtain Arab rights. When the Arab peoples ascertain that they have been made an exception to the application of the principles of international legitimacy, that when it comes to their causes only the rule of might prevails, they will come to the conclusion that they must respond in kind. If the law of the jungle is to be applied to them, they will ultimately feel that armed force is the only answer. Could this really be what Washington wants?
The Arabs are the potential victims of a crime of unfathomable proportions. The nature of this crime and the methods with which it is being carried out should compel the world to apply the lessons of history, specifically that policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany which effectively led to the outbreak of WWII. In the aftermath of that war not only did the world condemn the Nazi atrocities, but the Nuremberg trials also condemned those nations of the world that stood by passively as the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia as their first step towards territorial conquest and domination. Six years and more than 50 million dead later, the stunned and appalled nations of the world convened to found the UN in order to prevent a repeat of that tragedy. Henceforward, it was determined, collective action would be taken to prevent any renegade nation from expanding by force of arms at the expense of its neighbours. On the basis of this principle the international community acted in concert against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait. Yet where is this principle today, as Israel, with US backing, flaunts all international resolutions in its attempt to annex territories it has occupied by force of arms and to condemn thousands more Palestinians to homelessness? Why has the world not acted to stop Sharon's aggression against the Palestinians and other Arab peoples? On the basis of the principles established by the nations that defeated Nazi and fascist forces in WWII, I believe that the entire world should be held responsible for what is currently taking place in Palestine. Yes, the world is to blame for Sharon's rampage in that land, whether because it has failed to invoke Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which provides for the recourse to all means, including force of arms, to prevent a threat to international peace and security, or because it has merely chosen to remain silent in the face of the flagrant crimes being perpetrated against the Palestinian and Arab peoples.
International Response to the Bush Declaration on the Palestinian Right to Return