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Middle East Experts Urge International Intervention in Peace Process - 2003-09-16

Political experts in the Arab world are urging international intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying that without it, peace will never be achieved. Their warnings are being made as the United Nations Security Council debates whether to condemn Israel's recent decision to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

There is growing anger in the Arab world at last Thursday's decision by the Israeli security cabinet to expel and possibly even assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The cabinet voted in favor of the measure, calling Mr. Arafat an obstacle to peace. Israel has said it does not intend to take any action against Mr. Arafat immediately.

Still, in Egypt, one of only two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, there are growing calls for President Hosni Mubarak to sever all diplomatic relations with Israel if Mr. Arafat is expelled or harmed.

On Monday, nation after nation spoke before the United Nations Security Council blasting the Israeli decision, as the council debates whether to adopt a resolution condemning Israel's decision. Washington, which has said it does not support the Israeli cabinet's latest action, has also indicated it is opposed to any new U.N. resolution, saying Israel is already fully aware of how the international community feels.

But according to Uraib el-Rantawi, who heads the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan, international intervention may be the only way to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A third party interfering in this conflict is necessary nowadays more than any time ever before," he urged. "The United States, in particular, I think they have to play a serious role nowadays to put both parties on the track of the peace process. Otherwise, I think on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side there is no partner for the peace process.

"There is no historical leadership in both communities, the Israelis and the Palestinians to achieve peace and to implement the roadmap," continued Mr. el-Rantawi. "Therefore, I think international interference in such a conflict is necessary nowadays. It is [more] vital nowadays than ever before."

Without such intervention, Mr. el-Rantawi says there will be further and increasing bloodshed.

In the interim, Mr. el-Rantawi says Israel's decision has boosted Mr. Arafat's popularity.

"Arafat has strengthened among his people," he said. "He's devoted himself as a symbol for his people and his role among the Palestinian community nowadays, I think, is much stronger than ever before. I think it was a stupid decision made by the Israelis and the consequences of such a decision, at the end of the day, came for the benefit of Yasser Arafat himself."

But Israel is standing by its decision. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday there is no government decision to kill Mr. Arafat, but there can only be a peace agreement if he is removed from the area.

"It's not an official policy of the Israeli government," he said. "And we don't speak about any killing, we didn't speak about it before, and we don't speak about it today. I think that Arafat, while he is here, there is no chance to have peace with the Palestinians. That's my personal view. I think that the moderates can't take the lead."

The spokesman for the 22-member Arab League, Hisham Yousef, says the international community must take steps to ensure that Israel does not take any action against Mr. Arafat. Mr. Yousef says any move against Yasser Arafat would have grave consequences.

"It would open the Pandora's box and then we will have a cycle of violence that would affect not only the region but beyond," said Mr. Yousef. "We believe that if this decision is not reversed then the international community should start to take steps in order to send a message to Israel that there are red lines, even for Israel."

Mr. Yousef says the Arab world's relations with Israel have reached what he described as an all time low. He says the answer is not to remove Yasser Arafat, but rather for the international community to act as a partner for peace because, he says, Israel and the Palestinians have lost their ability to find a peaceful solution on their own.