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Arab Leaders Give Qualified Nod to Bush Mideast Plan - 2002-06-25


President Bush's peace plan for the Middle East is drawing a mixed reaction from Arab leaders and analysts.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he believes President Bush's plan for peace "is balanced." But in remarks to reporters on Tuesday he added that some points still need more explanation and clarification." However, the Egyptian president said, "if the Palestinian Authority supported the plan then Egypt will support it." Referring to Yasser Arafat, Mr. Mubarak said he saw no need to replace the Palestinian leader, as Mr. Bush indirectly called for in his speech.

Mr. Mubarak also said, "there needs to be a reform of the Palestinian Authority."

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa reacted favorably to the proposed peace plan. Speaking in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, Mr. Moussa said "there are many positive aspects" to the Bush plan that "deserved careful consideration."

Mohammad Kamal teaches political science at two universities in Cairo. He says the Arab world can find good elements in the president's proposed plan, starting with its acceptance of a Palestinian state. "The first time this administration comes up with a plan for the Middle East it calls for creation of a Palestinian state, Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and freezes settlements. Those are positive elements," he said.

However, Mr. Kamal says he believes Arab leaders, ultimately, will have a difficult time embracing the plan because he says it is very short on details.

It didn't say how the Palestinian state is going to look. What are the standards for determining that the Palestinians have achieved these reforms demanded by the administration and who is going to be the final judge of that? It doesn't give a timetable for the creation of the so-called Palestinian state and it doesn't define what a provisional state is. So, for many Arabs, I would say it is a disappointment and it's not going to solve the problem on the ground.

George Jabbour is a former political adviser to the late Syrian President Hafez Assad. He says, among other things, President Bush was too vague in his remarks about an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. "Israeli security will not come with a vague statement on Palestine," he said. "It will come with the liberation of Palestine from the Israeli occupation. President Bush was not clear on the fact that he wants Israel to withdraw from its occupation. I hope that President Bush has not pushed the area into a new and more bloody confrontation with his statement."

Many Arab political analysts say the President's speech will be viewed negatively on the streets of the Middle East. But Said Sadek Amin, an expert on Arab public opinion who is based in Cairo, says he believes that opinion may be changing. "You have to take into account two things," he said. "First of all, Arab public opinion has been [influenced] during this second Intifada by Arab official media. Arab official media controls almost 85 to 90 percent of media in the Middle East and so public opinion may resent what Bush said. But I think he also mentioned Arab media must change the message and not support terrorism and so I think the Arab media message is going to change," he said.

And Mr. Amin says as the Arab media change, so will public opinion in the streets of the Middle East.

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