By Eric S. Margolis
1 April 2001
I've held a dim view of Arab summit meetings ever since I was in Amman,Jordan, back in the mid-1970's, on death's doorstep with a 104 fever due to some mysterious malady I picked up in the mountains of north Yemen. Jordan's late King Hussein declared an emergency Arab summit to deal with a crisis over the Palestinians. In those days, always scare hotel rooms in the Arab World were worth more than human life. Burly security agents summarily threw me out of my room. I spent 18 hours shivering on a bench at Amman airport with all my clothes piled on top of me for warmth, watching Arab delegations sweep into Amman for an vocal orgy of bombast and empty promises.
A quarter century later, nothing has changed. Last week, the Arab states held a two-day summit in Amman, the first since the 1991 Gulf War, aimed at harmonizing inter-Arab regional relations, aiding the embattled Palestinians, and ending America's relentless punishment of Iraq.
The result: another embarrassing failure that showed the Arab states'weakness, disunity, and continuing dependency on the United States. Iraq and Kuwait remained at scimitar's drawn, unable to resolve their bitter feud.
The 22-member Arab League promised US $40 million a month to the Palestinian Authority, which was bankrupted by Israel's cutoff of remittance payments. According to the UN, 38% of Palestinians are now out of work; one million live below the poverty level. But then Arab diplomats did their usual backstabbing by leaking to the press that the money might not be forthcoming because of corruption in thePalestinian Authority - as if other Arab states were any less corrupt. A billion dollars grandly promised by the Arab League last October to thePalestinians was, as usual, a mirage.This summit of the impotent was primarily motivated by the surging tide of anger across the Muslim World over Israel's increasingly brutal repressionof rebellious Palestinians, which last week included assassinations, airand artillery bombardments, and shelling by tanks after the deaths of an Israeli infant and two teenagers. Arab regimes, fearing their people'sfury would be vented against them, had to show they were doing something toaid Palestine. The something amounted to the usual ritual condemnations ofIsrael, followed by a good lunch.Days after the summit ended, the United States heaped humiliation on itsArab `allies' by vetoing the dispatch of a United Nations observer force tothe Israeli-occupied territories. Since the end of the Cold War, the UShas cast five UN vetoes, four to block international action against Israel. President George Bush, echoing the Israeli line, went out of his way to blame the crisis in the Israeli-Occupied Territories on PLO chief YasserArafat. Calls across the Arab World for an oil embargo or boycott of US goods to support the Palestinian `intifada' goods fell on deaf ears.
The reason was painfully clear: most Arab regimes are too beholden to the US to do more than make peeps of protest. Egypt, with 38% of the Arab World's population, relies on $2.1 billion in annual US aid for over half its food and arms. This aid is controlled by Congress, which, on Mideast matters, gets its marching orders from the powerful Israel Lobby.
Thanks to the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel gained de facto control of Egypt's food jugular vein. Egypt's military,which keeps President Husni Mubarak's regime in power, is armed by the US, but kept on a very short leash by limited supplies of US spare parts and munitions. Consequently, Egypt cannot wage a major war against Israel, but is only capable of attacking Libya or Sudan, both US enemies.
Jordan is in much the same fix. Sixty percent of its people are Palestinians. The US-armed and financed beduin army keeps King Abdullah on his throne. American aid allows Jordan's economy, ravaged by the embargo of Iraq, to limp along. Both Egypt and Jordan, always described as `moderate Arabs' by the US media, signed peace treaties with Israel - under political and financial pressure from the US, which also holds their debt.
Saudi Arabia is the Germany of the Mideast: rich but politically powerless. The Saudis even deny ammunition to their meager armed forces, lest they try to overthrow the monarchy, relying on beduin militia and the US for protection. Kuwait and the Gulf Emirates, terrified of both Iran and Iraq, have simply gone form being British protectorates to American ones.Iraq lies in ruins.
Syria, the only Arab nation beside Egypt with real military power, and one of the few Arab states not under the tutelage ofAmerica's Oil Raj, is nearly bankrupt. Its army and air force are stuck with obsolete, 1960's vintage Soviet weapons that are three generations behind Israel's hi-tech, US-supplied arsenal.
Economic strength underlies military power. Amazingly, the combined economies of the entire Arab World, including North Africa, some 240million people, are only equal to that of Spain's 39 million inhabitants,and smaller than Canada's. The Arab World cannot even feed itself, and produces next to nothing. As one cynic noted, the only technology developed by the Arab World in the past fifty years is the car bomb.
As Israel blasts the wretched Palestinians and hints at attacks against southern Lebanon, Syria, and even distant Iran, the Mideast states dither in fear, confusion, and mutual suspicion. The non-democratic regimes that misrule the Arab World can't decide which danger is greater: an enraged,belligerent Israel or their own angry people.
Copyright: Eric S. Margolis 2001
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