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Interview with Dr. Murhaf Jouejafi - 2002-04-04

Dr. Jouejati, how has the current Middle East crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, affected the Western campaign against terrorism in a broad way? There have been reports that the Bush administration was trying to convince Arab leaders that the next phase of this war on terrorism would be Iraq in some way. And the answer that was received from Arab nations was a sound rejection: No.

Tell us more about how this crisis in the Middle East is affecting the campaign against terrorism.

First, it is important to note that all the neighbors of Iraq have at one time or another had an enmity with Iraq. And so, in the end, there is no love lost for either Saddam Hussein or his regime, or even the weapons of mass destruction that are in Iraq. This is something that has to be said because, this which is a priority for the United States -- Iraq as the second phase of its campaign against terrorism -- might be shared in the region, but in the region the priority is not there. The danger comes mostly from the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The populations of the Middle East, the Arab masses, see the violence on their TV, the daily violence, the humiliation of the Palestinian people. Basically, a defenseless people against the fourth largest army in the world. They see these things on their TV screens and they are outraged. And this outrage translates into mass pressure against the governments.

So the Arab regimes, the Arab governments in place in the Middle East, are very much under pressure to try to resolve this Palestinian-Israeli crisis, fully cognizant of the fact that Iraq, too, is a threat, but the priority for them is not there.

Let me rephrase the question and ask it in a different way. A U.S. Senator on our program, Senator Richard Lugar, told us at one point a week or two ago that he thought many Arab countries publicly were saying “no” to the next phase, Iraq, but privately saying “yes, we fear Saddam Hussein, go in, but if you do it, do it completely and clearly so that there is clarity in the region.” Is that almost what you're saying?

It is “almost” what I am saying. What I am saying is that the timing is wrong. The timing of the United States is wrong. If Iraq is dealt with should it not comply with U.N. resolutions, should it not let international inspectors in, if it is still in violation of U.N. resolutions, dealing with Iraq I think would be okay in the region, but the timing is wrong. Because dealing with Iraq now would give the image to the Arab world that there is an onslaught of America and Israel against them at the same time in different parts of the Arab world.

Well, then I have to ask you, if the timing is wrong now -- playing the devil's advocate here -- if I were somebody living in Jerusalem, I would want to ask you, when is the timing right? There does not appear to be a resolution in sight at the moment to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

I will not give you a date specific. But there is going to need to be a political settlement to this Palestinian-Israeli issue. It can no longer go on like this. This is the source of almost all instability in the Middle East. This is constraining the hands of the United States in the Middle East. This vexing question of the Arab?Israeli conflict will not go away. And you are seeing on the TV images coming from there. The violence is escalating. It is increasing. And it is not doing the United States any good. It is not doing Israel any good. And it is not doing the region any good -- a region which is on the verge of exploding.

So, when you have this amount of escalating violence, of gruesome violence, Iraq, in the Arab mind, is on the back burner. This is not the case in the U.S. mind.

In the last minute or so that we have, a quick question. I think you mentioned the media, and I want to ask you: Is the role of the media in the Middle East, which many have viewed, particularly with Middle Eastern television and radio outlets, to be extremely anti-Israel, is the role of the media a part of the problem? Is it helpful? Can it be straightened out? Can it be more balanced?

You are perhaps referring to al Jazeera. And al Jazeera is only picking up the images that it sees in reality and it is transmitting them to the Arabs. The media is certainly a problem in the United States. And I think there is a fantastic Israeli propaganda campaign going on in the United States, led by people like Mr. Netanyahu, who want to equate what happened at the World Trade Center with what is happening in the Occupied Territories. He wants to equate Afghanistan and the war on terrorism with Palestine and Israel's war on terrorism.

Well, the two are different. Afghanistan is not Palestine. The U.S. never occupied Afghanistan, but Israel does occupy the Palestinian Territories. But by doing this PR effort, I think he is confusing the American public, which, in the end, is going to have to see the realities of the Middle East in order to be part of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I'm sure we will be talking about this more and more in the weeks and months ahead. Thank you so much for your time.