The problem facing Arab leaders
For the Europeans, the present situation as an opportunity to end the American monopoly on the Middle East conflict. In the blackest scenario, the European countries could decide that if the Americans can impose sanctions on European countries that do business with Iran, then why can't they impose sanctions on American companies that do business with Israel.
"The Arab regimes, especially those which have a common border with Israel, made their biggest mistake when they closed their borders to volunteers (who wanted to fight alongside the Palestinians)," the editor of the London-based Al Quds al-Arabi wrote last week.
"The terror that Colin Powell wants to fight is not the Israeli terror, but the suicide operations which have developed into a culture that concerns the U.S. and all those countries that support the Israeli project ... The Arab regimes are unable to fight this phenomenon, or to eliminate it for the U.S., because if they do, the countdown to their demise will begin. Cooperating with the Bush administration against the terror in Afghanistan was a fatal error, but it is being repeated, and this time against a noble Arab and Islamic phenomenon - the intifada. The Arab street must make its voice heard, because the Arab regimes have discounted the Arab masses, after they bought off the political and cultural elites."
These Arab regimes are now under intense pressure from the masses on the streets. Jordan's King Abdullah, first and foremost, ordered some of his ministers to participate in street protests, to show that the government is not removed from the people. Even his wife, Queen Rania, led a quiet demonstration of human rights activists.
In Egypt, security forces continue to clash with demonstrators, and only Saudi Arabia is not taking any chances, with leaders there having issued orders barring all protests. So far, the order has been obeyed.
Arab leaders observed how their diplomatic passivity led to Saddam Hussein's private initiative to halt the export of oil. These leaders fear that public pressure will reach a point where they will be left with no option but to use live ammunition on their own citizens, or actively impose sanctions on Israel and the U.S. If this point is reached, then the U.S. is likely to bare its teeth more than it has up to now, especially if the Europeans also start imposing sanctions.
For the Europeans, the present situation as an opportunity to end the American monopoly on the Middle East conflict. In the blackest scenario, the European countries could decide that if the Americans can impose sanctions on European countries that do business with Iran, then why can't they impose sanctions on American companies that do business with Israel. In such a case, European sanctions on Israeli products would be only the first step.
On his own, Sharon will probably not be able to head off such a scenario, part of which has already materialized. When he reaches the bottom of the slippery slope in the West Bank - he is sliding along with the dream of reconquering the territories, embraced by Effi Eitam, Uzi Landau and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - he and these ministers are not the only ones who will implode.
Sharon is likely to meet several Arab leaders at the bottom of the slope. There is no need, however, to actually reach this point. It appears that now, in the midst of the violence, an opportunity has emerged, with both Israel and some Arab leaders having a clear interest in trying to promote some miraculous solution that would halt the intifada.
What would happen if Colin Powell was to be joined by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and together they were to meet both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon? If the Arab states are so fearful of deterioration in the region, why don't they take it upon themselves to act as mediators?
The Saudi initiative was a first step in this direction, but it is now treading water and so is unable to establish any momentum. Why don't the three foreign ministers talk directly to the Israeli public? Not to the cabinet ministers who suffer from diplomatic paralysis, but to the public that elects them, and who can be shown that not all the Arabs, especially their leaders, are a bunch of political kamikazes.