Three Arabs Alone on the Road

The Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders find themselves genuinely threatened, worried about their own survival, and horrified that the boiling Arab street might force them to take actions contrary to their national interests.

Are Arab leaders fed up with the war in Palestine? Judging by the long interview that President Hosni Mubarak gave to the Egyptian news agency, it seems Arab patience is wearing very thin. Mubarak did not speak about the intifada in the interview - he did not condemn it outright, nor support it outright.

Mubarak spoke as an Egyptian leader who places his nation's interests above those of others, including the Palestinians. Those who want to go to war don't know what they are talking about, he said, only those who have been in a war know it's real price. And in another interview, a week ago, to the Egyptian newspaper Akhbar al Yom, he said, "The Egyptian army is not an army of mercenaries, it is an army meant to defend the borders of Egypt from enemies outside."

Mubarak came under fierce criticism for that, from Abdel Ba'air Atwan, editor of Al Quds Al Araby: "President Mubarak will forgive us if we agree with him that the Egyptian army is not a mercenary army - it is made up of hundreds of thousands of honorable Egyptians burning with desire to defend their nation (the Arab rather than the Egyptian one), and their religion, in the face of the humiliation now taking place in Palestine. This army's war in Palestine in the past, present and future does not mean this is a mercenary army. Perhaps we should remind President Mubarak that his army fought under American command in the Gulf War and that was not to defend Egypt's borders. If President Mubarak does not want to fight to protect the honor of the Arab nation and the religion of Islam, he should not say so day and night, because that guarantees Sharon that the southern borders of Israel are safe, and he can continue his massacres without fear."

That's the kind of pressure Mubarak is under, from the poisonous rhetoric of "free" intellectuals, the Egyptian street, and even colleagues like Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose demonstrators stoned the Egyptian embassy in Damascus to protest Egypt's "impotence."

It's the same kind of pressure exerted on Jordanian King Abdullah II and on the Saudi regime. These three leaders have not received a positive response from the government in Israel. This is an Arab leadership that finds itself genuinely threatened, worried about their own survival, and horrified by the idea that the boiling Arab street right, which is donating its money for Palestinians through a series of endless telethons, will force them to take actions contrary to their national interests.

This leadership could be a worthy partner for any Israeli prime minister ready to present a sustainable political plan, but Ariel Sharon does not see beyond the jurisdictions of Ramallah or Bethlehem and his political vision is derived from the evil spirit at his back represented by Benjamin Netanyahu. This Arab leadership is not made of one cloth, but it distinguishes itself from the uniform screams of madness by genuinely trying to make a real effort at practical politics. But they, like many in the Israeli public, they do not see the relevant Israeli partner who can put the political process on its feet.

"The chaff and the wheat are so mixed on your side," said one Egyptian intellectual, "that only a donkey can find the difference. Is it possible to build a future with the Labor Party, now complicit with Sharon's crimes? Why should we believe Benjamin Ben-Eliezer when he lets General Mofaz do what he does? You didn't leave a single political escape hatch to enable the Arab leadership to say to its public that peace is possible."

This is not only a political analysis. The Arab leadership is searching for a way out of domestic crises - the loss of state revenues, the destruction of its tourism industries, zero investments, and mounting demands for new jobs.

It's looking for a sign from Israel, but apparently it won't find it in the sealed room where Sharon, Effi Eitam, Shimon Peres and Ben-Eliezer warm themselves together.