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Arab reaction to Israeli elections: from wariness to readiness for war

JERUSALEM (BP)–Arab reaction to the Feb. 6 election of Ariel Sharon ranged from wary to warlike, with moderate states waiting for Israel’s next prime minister to make his first moves and radical states calling his election a declaration of war, CNSNews.com reported Feb. 7.

Sharon, who is reviled by many Arabs, overwhelmingly defeated Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Tuesday’s voting. The 72-year-old former Israeli general has pledged to bring peace and security to the region, but has a history of taking a tough line with the Arabs.

“We will wait and see what Sharon will do,” said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, CNSNews.com reported. “Will it be a policy of peace or that of suppression?” he asked.

Mubarak has been a key player in mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and a supporter of the PA. Sharon has pledged to continue negotiations with the PA but has also said he will offer far less than Barak did — which the Palestinians rejected as not enough.

Mubarak noted that Sharon was known “for a policy of suppression” and for his association with the massacre of Palestinian civilians at two Beirut refugee camps in 1982.

Lebanese militias allied with Israel killed hundreds of residents of the Sabra and Shatila camps. Sharon was defense minister at the time, and an Israeli inquiry later found him indirectly responsible.

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel. But the peace has been a cold one, and Cairo recalled its ambassador to Israel several months ago due to the current flare-up in violence.

In Jordan, the only other Arab nation to have a peace treaty with Israel, reaction to Sharon’s victory was mixed.

“Sharon wins … extremism rules Israel today,” the al-Aswaq newspaper declared. Ad-Dustour headlined its report with the one word, in red ink: “Sharon.”

“Sharon might postpone peace, but he will not be able to assassinate it,” an editorial in al-Aswaq said.

The English-language Jordan Times took a different tack, saying Sharon might not be worse for the peace process than Barak was.

“We cannot say that under Sharon Arabs, especially Palestinians, and the peace process are in a worse situation than they were two days ago, or even two months ago,” it said in an editorial.

“It was the ‘dove’ Ehud Barak, after all, who helped draw us — Arab and Israeli — back into the abyss.”

Jordan’s government tried to allay fears of an escalation of violence in the region.

“The most important challenge facing the whole region is the achievement of peace,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Abdulilah al-Khatib was quoted as saying. The “real test,” he said, will be how Sharon would work toward that goal.

King Abdullah on Tuesday also downplayed any heating up of the atmosphere in the region.

“We’ve seen and endured much in the past, and have put the most difficult times behind us,” the Jordanian king told a cabinet meeting. “With our solid and strong institutions there is no cause to worry about whoever assumes leadership in the region around us having any influence on Jordan.”

Sixty percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian. The previous week, Sharon angered Jordanian leaders when he mused that PA Chairman Yasir Arafat might overthrow the regime there — a move he tried before, in 1970.

The government-controlled press in Syria and Lebanon said Sharon’s election was tantamount to a declaration of war.

“The victory of the bloody terrorist and war criminal Sharon as head of the Israeli government is a clear message by the Zionist entity to Arabs amounting to an official declaration of war,” said the newspaper of the ruling Syrian party al-Baath.

“By choosing Sharon the Israelis chose escalation, terrorism and aggression. They cut their final links with the peace process and drove the region into a new cycle of violence,” it opined.

A commentary in the official daily, Tishreen, urged Arabs not to “fall into a state of despair because the person who is coming to rule in Israel is a war criminal whose deeds are known in the whole world.”

“Israel revolted against peace last night and chose the way of extremism when its majority elected Sharon,” said the Beirut daily An-Nahar.

“Choosing Sharon is akin to a choice of war,” Lebanon’s Ad-Diyar added.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council member General Ali Hassan al-Majeed chose not to condemn Sharon alone, but all of Israel.

“No to a regime for the Zionist entity [Israel] in the heart of the Arab nation and no to the existence of Zionism in the Arab nation,” he said.

Majeed was speaking at the opening of a military unit comprised of thousands of Iraqis who have volunteered to fight alongside the Palestinians against Israel.

Baghdad said earlier that some 6 million Iraqis have already enlisted to fight Israel.
Stahl is the Jerusalem bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Julie Stahl