Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
January 9, 2009 - 1:00am

Shared Arab effort at the level of Foreign Ministers this week in New York was excellent. It aimed at driving the Security Council to adopt a resolution that would demand an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Such a resolution would also call for deploying a force of UN observers who would monitor the implementation of the cease-fire and an effective mechanism to prevent Hamas from launching rockets from Gaza, and would ensure that no weapons are smuggled to it, as well as opening the crossings into Gaza and lifting the siege. The main objective was to stop the slaughter of civilians and save the children of Gaza from the random violence of wretched war, without entering into the details of who started it and who made excessive use of military force with a collective punishment of civilians.

Indeed, everyone agrees that it was Hamas that started the war, that Israel has made an excessive use of force in achieving the aim of "end terrorism, not Hamas," as in the words of Israeli President Shimon Peres, and that it has sought a military operation open-ended in time to serve flexible and obscure objectives.

The US administration has implicated itself by adopting the Israeli perspective, even at the enormous cost in civilian lives. This has made it misestimate the Arab stances brought by Arab Foreign Ministers to the UN. Thus it behaved arrogantly and with misplaced confidence, displaying the features of moral and diplomatic bankruptcy, as it rejected the mere idea of issuing a Security Council Resolution to reach a cease-fire and set a timeframe for ending military operations.

France, on the other hand, has gotten lost in its initiatives and gotten others lost with it, among them Egypt. Indeed, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, inspired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, decided to launch an initiative from Cairo which surprised even their two Foreign Ministers, one of whom was in New York and the other on his way there. However, none was more surprised than the Arab Foreign Ministers, who were in the midst of negotiations to formulate a proposal for a Security Council Resolution that would meet with the support of its members, in order to issue a call for cease-fire, to establish a mechanism of monitoring and to achieve the goals of reopening the crossings through a UN Resolution and the diplomacy of the Security Council. This comes after the failure of Hamas rockets to achieve these goals, which it has said were behind its refusal to extend the relief period. Despite their astonishment, Palestinian, Saudi, Jordanian, Libyan, UAE and Moroccan diplomacies were quick to catch their breath. Indeed they considered that the Egyptian initiative complements the Arab movement at the Security Council, and insisted to move forward in bringing the resolution proposal to the Council in parallel with Cairo's move, in hopes that one of the two will lead to a cease-fire.

Egyptian diplomacy has done the same, by announcing that the two movements complete each other. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, along with Libya's Foreign Minister, the only Arab member at the Security Council, Abdurrahman Salgam, has led Arab strategy by insisting on issuing a Council Resolution, and by being willing to fulfill the requirements of amendments to ensure the support of the nine votes necessary to adopt any resolution. Thus the US administration has been pushed aside and the US and European strategy, which had wagered on the unavailability of the nine votes and found that this would help them and embarrass the Arabs, has waned.

As we entered the night of Wednesday, it seemed that the opposite was true, as the Arab Ministers approved amendments put forth by Austria, Mexico and Costa Rica, surprising the American and European delegations. Even Britain and France found it difficult to withhold their vote on the Arab resolution proposal, after it had been revised and modified. In fact, even the US delegation felt that it should wait until the following day, the day when the voting takes place, to see what the developments on the field are and if there is room to reconsider.

The Foreign Minister of Libya told the Foreign Ministers of the three countries, Condoleezza Rice of the US, Bernard Kouchner of France and David Miliband of the UK, that the ball was in their court, and that those who use the veto will be responsible for it, and not the Arabs.

If the US were to allow the Security Council to adopt such a resolution, George Bush's administration would have decided not to waste a rare opportunity that would leave George Bush with a reputation and a historical biography other than the one resulting from the slaughter of children passing by without a blink due to his obsession with fighting terrorism.

Even if his classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization is what rules his thoughts, George Bush cannot deny the reality of what the occupation and Israel's expansionist policies in Gaza, even after its unilateral withdrawal from the Strip, have resulted in. The fact of the matter is that Israel itself created Hamas to undermine the PLO, and that it itself makes sure to keep Hamas as its partner in undermining the Palestinian Authority, which seeks to realize the vision of the two states through negotiations, that very vision which George Bush said was his own.

The Arab resolution proposal includes an opportunity for George Bush to end his term in office with a resolution which would be the crowning achievement of what he had begun his first term with, in terms of the vision of negotiations for a two-state solution, and which would pull the rug from under Hamas's feet, which goes along with his pledge to thwart the factions, militias and organizations that reject the two-state solution. The resolution is the opportunity to establish a new reality on the ground, one which would bind Hamas's capabilities to UN supervision and assurances, and would return the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.

Furthermore, the Bush administration allowing the adoption of such a resolution would give President-Elect Barack Obama's administration a qualitative push forward, as it would leave it in a state of confidence, not in a defensive posture. Indeed, the United States as a whole will be held responsible for aborting the cease-fire resolution, regardless of the extent to which some believe that the hiatus between the two administrations is the opportunity to impose a de facto reality with impunity. Thus if George Bush decides to offer Barack Obama a basis of understandings, he would find that the opportunity of a Security Council resolution is the right one to inaugurate a chapter of sound relations between the US and the world on the eve of Barack Obama taking office, with the contribution and as a gift from the departing president.

If, however, George Bush decides to leave the White House with the Israeli flag held high, and having followed what Israel dictates, even if it leads to the enmity of the majority of Arab states and to an uprising against the US in a part of the world where US interests include military bases, then the incumbent president is implicating the next president, along with the American people, in an even worse predicament.

The fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would lead an effort such as the one exerted by Prince Saud Al-Faisal in New York to reach issuing the resolution reflects the serious need of Arab moderation to stop the US from submitting to the dictates of Israel, which serves extremism and rewards it repeatedly. Absent from the meetings of the Arab "Follow-up Committee" was the Foreign Minister of Syria. In fact, the Syrian Ambassador at the UN boycotted the meetings, in which Syria was not represented at any level.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has gone to Damascus and asked for the help of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to pressure Hamas, some of whose leaders are hosted by Damascus. Several days have gone by without any results, which coincides with Israel's desire for more time before the cease-fire. Of course, Hamas in turn has continued to fire rockets, and thus it is not Israel alone that has contributed to prolonging the war and delaying the cease-fire.

Sarkozy then turned to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in parallel with his call to the Syrian President, Qatari leadership and Turkish leaders to use their influence with Hamas to convince it to be flexible. This tactic has contributed to prolonging the war and delaying the cease-fire, because Sarkozy was toying with the Security Council to serve his game in the region, as he seeks to achieve a breakthrough that would provide him with a certain standing. By using such a tactic, the French President has abused his heading of the Security Council, as he has exploited it for his personal efforts and objectives, and has contributed to encouraging Syria and Qatar in their belief that frustrating Arab efforts at the Security Council will lead to invigorating their roles in the region, as a necessary Syrian channel of influence, or as a Qatari hosting of an Arab Summit which Doha has sought. Sarkozy has also contributed to buying time for Israel by sending conflicting and scattered messages in the region, directly or through his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, sometimes to emphasize the importance of the Security Council which France is heading this month, and sometimes to oppose issuing a resolution by the Council, and always lost, perhaps purposely, between New York and the capitals.

Perhaps the Egyptian initiative, which Sarkozy advised Mubarak of, will bring positive results. Perhaps Israel and the Palestinian factions will agree to an immediate cease-fire for a limited period, which would allow for opening the crossings and allow Egypt to pursue its efforts to reach a complete and final cease-fire. Perhaps subsequently things will go well, and Egypt's call to each of Israel and the Palestinian side to hold urgent meetings will be answered, meetings aiming at reaching procedures and assurances, including ensuring the security of the borders, lifting the siege and reopening the crossings. Perhaps Egypt's efforts to reach reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and the factions will be successful. No one will complain of such a success. In case of success, the French President, and not only the Egyptian President, will deserve the recognition of the validity of his efforts, especially as he has come to the region, made shuttle trips for the sake of diplomacy, and succeeded.

One may say: What is wrong with Sarkozy acting on three fronts at once, the Egyptian front, the Syrian-Qatari front including Turkey, and the Security Council front? There is nothing wrong with it if the three fronts complement each other. Yet the fact is that Sarkozy has played on the contradictions, and that is a difficult wager when the victims of the de facto situation are hundreds of civilians, children, women and men.

The UN has played an important role in the humanitarian crisis, and relief agencies, and especially the UNRWA, have played an effective role. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken daring and moral political and humanitarian stances, and so has his Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, as has UNRWA Head of Operations John Ging, who has conveyed the image of the humanitarian situation with eloquence and emotion.

However, the Security Council remains the compass for the UN in assuming its responsibilities, as it is a body that is supposed to enjoy the greatest authority. Its failure at a time when images of children being buried alive in the sand are being broadcast will not be a passing matter. It would represent a major setback for the international organization, as well as a major risk and a bad wager for the country which would cause the crippling and failure of the Security Council. Naturally, the General Assembly can be resorted to in order to stress on the failure of the group of fifteen at the Security Council. Regardless of whether or not the General Assembly (a council of nearly two hundred states) is a mere platform the speakers of which no one listens to, its holding a session to stress the failure of the Security Council due to a US veto or a group failure will have an impact and consequences. Perhaps the mere announcement by the President of the Assembly of his resolve to hold a General Assembly session has affected the deliberations at the Security Council and the way its members will vote.

Whatever happens at the Security Council, Arab strategy has been excellent, as has the presence of Arab Foreign Ministers and of Secretary-General of the Arab League Amro Moussa in New York. They have worked to alert the Security Council to the fact that the time of Arab absence from the Council has passed, and that Arab solidarity in demanding specific measures will be the highlight of the next period. Today Gaza is a highly important milestone, yet what is taking place in the different approaches to dealing with Gaza is an investment in the manner of dealing with the Palestinian Authority versus Hamas, and with the choice of the two-state solution as well as the future of moderation and extremism in the region.


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