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Many Arabs Skeptical About 'Road Map' Peace Plan - 2003-06-05


Many Arabs say they are skeptical that the negotiations which took place earlier this week at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba will actually result in real steps toward peace in the Middle East.

A political columnist in the Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar summed up the Arab mood after this week's summits to push Mideast peace forward.

Writing on Thursday, Said Sonbol said while the Arabs welcome the statements made at the summits about the creation of a Palestinian state, they also believe it is far too early to tell whether those words will actually result in concrete steps toward peace. The Israelis themselves, or their supporters in the United States, he writes, might derail the process and deny the Palestinians their rights to statehood and return.

Another analyst, the head of Cairo University's political science department, Hasan Nafa'a, says, at the very least, this week's talks gave a fresh boost to efforts to end 32 months of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. But he also says the Arabs are skeptical that the new peace plan, known as the road map, will actually be implemented. "I don't think that the road map will be implemented effectively on the ground," he said. "Unless the United States exerts real pressure on Israel, there will not be a real peace process. That's why I am very skeptical about the real intentions of President Bush. Maybe he needs some quiet for the coming months to be able to win the elections."

Like Mr. Nafa'a, other Arabs suspect that Mr. Bush's trip to the Mideast may have had a lot to do with domestic American politics.

Businessman Magdy Ibrahim say he views President Bush's first effort at Mideast peacemaking as a gesture to gain votes in the upcoming presidential campaign or even take the pressure off of criticism over Iraq. But he also says both the Israelis and Palestinians have a responsibility to take actions to achieve peace. "We hope it will be toward real peace but I think there are a lot of difficulties still present and they must have the courage to do what they must do," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to start uprooting some Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank, rather than freezing settlements as called for in the road map. While his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, has announced the end to armed struggle, but made no mention of disarming the Palestinian militias by force.

Medical doctor Osama Gamil says these tentative first steps must be built upon if the fight against terrorism is to be won and the Middle East is to pursue its goals of economic development. "After the recent circumstances of the terrorism, you know, we need now peace for our people in the Middle East and for all our nations starting to build our economic situation," he said. "This is extremely important."

The violence between Israel and the Palestinians has severely disrupted both economies and also hurt those of neighboring countries.