Let Us Now Praise the Intifada

The two festivals of performing arts that are opening this summer in the Arab states are dedicated in honor of the Palestinian Intifada.

The two festivals of performing arts that are opening this summer in the Arab states are dedicated in honor of the Palestinian Intifada. The Jerash Festival in Jordan states that it is being held "for the sake of the victims of the Palestinian people" and, accordingly, the carnival-like ceremonies that mark the event's opening every year have this time been muted. And in Lebanon, the music festival has taken a surprising turn: The well-known singer Fayrouz will sing a special song in honor of the Intifada. In Egypt an exhibition of paintings has been dedicated to the Intifada, and in some of the Gulf states conferences in marketing and advertising opened with a solemn declaration in memory of the shahids (martyrs).

The Intifada thus seems to have become part of the Arab - not only the Palestinian - ethos. A researcher in the Egyptian Al-Ahram Institute believes that it has become possible to construct such an ethos because no political solution is visible on the horizon. "As long as even partial negotiations took place," he writes, "as long as there was some sort of plan on the table, the Intifada was confined within the framework of political activity, both Arab and international. One could agree with [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat or one could criticize him, one could protest against the policy pursued by Israel or by the United States, or one could present a neutral stance. But in general the Arab position was that of observers on the sidelines, or at most, of contributors who wished to divest themselves of a burden of conscience. Now it seems that the struggle has developed into a far broader front, a direct Arab-Israeli front."

A series of developments - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's statement that peace will not be possible as long as Ariel Sharon is prime minister of Israel; the cold shoulder being displayed by Jordan's King Abdullah II, who maintains almost no direct ties with the Israeli government beyond what is needed in the security realm; the trenchant Arab debate about whether to take part in the economic conference scheduled to be held this November in Qatar, at which an Israeli delegation is also expected to be present; Saudi Arabia's anger at the United States; and the general Arab criticism of the Egyptian government for receiving Foreign Minister Shimon Peres - are all part of the same process: The Arab states are engaged in entrenching a long cold war against Israel. Its demarcation line consists of Mubarak's declaration that "there will not be a regional war," but anything less than that is an arena that's open for activity.

In this arena publicity and propaganda play a substantive role, one that becomes ever more significant as its achievements mount. The intention to place Ariel Sharon on trial in Belgium over the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps massacre in 1982, the "public" campaign of protest mounted in Denmark against the appointment of Carmi Gillon - the former head of the Shin Bet security service - for statements he made about the organization's use of force against Palestinians, the collecting of information about Israeli army officers and other figures that will enable them to be accused of committing "war crimes," have led a number of lawyers from Arab states to volunteer their services to European human rights groups.

And all this, the Egyptian researcher observes, "would not have been possible if it were not for the substantial decline in the status of Israel in Europe. This is a new niche for the Arab publicists, which has cropped up quite by surprise and in the meantime appears to be reaping success."

The next stage of the struggle appears likely to take place in the economic sphere, where the aim will be not only to bring about a European boycott of Israeli goods that are manufactured in the territories, but to work for a freeze on all activity that is not yet enshrined in the agreement between Israel and the European Union. This part of the campaign is now being waged - not by Arab voluntary groups but by Arab governments, which appear to be starting to outdo the trade unions in their countries with respect to boycotting the normalization process.

The point is that at a time when the question of normalization relates directly to two or three Arab states, the ability of the Arab states to exert economic influence on policy decisions being made in Europe, and also in the United States, is perceived as being within the realm of possibility. This is particularly so at a time when the United States administration has not yet formulated its Middle East policy and appears to be - in the perception of the Arab states - inviting proposals for such policy plans.

Official Arab bodies in Jordan and Egypt confirm that the volume of official messages being sent in the past few weeks from the Arab states to the White House is very large indeed, and that they are making one central point: Israel is to blame for the situation and the Arab states will not be able to ignore the policy being pursued by Washington.

"It appears that after years in which the Arab attitude slid across the international stage without leaving an imprint, it is beginning to get a new grip," the Egyptian researcher remarks. "This could be an Arab asset from the implications of which Arafat, too, will find it difficult to free Israel."