WASHINGTON – It was a long stride toward peace and justice in the Middle East when the Arab League voted unanimously Mar. 28 for the Saudi peace plan based upon Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and creation of a Palestinian state in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel within her 1967 borders.

This was the moment the world had been waiting for: a unanimous commitment by the Arab nations to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel’s recognition of Palestine. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah spoke directly to the Israeli people in his televised speech from the Beirut summit. Resorting to violence, he said, “has only resulted in more violence and destruction … the Israeli people are as far as they have ever been from security and peace … Israel and the world must understand that peace and retention of the occupied territories are incompatible and impossible to reconcile or achieve.”

Within hours of Abdullah’s March 27 speech, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded restaurant in the Israeli town of Netanya killing 25 people. The extremist group Hamas took credit with a statement that the bombing was aimed at the “Zionist enemy” and as a “message to the summit convening in Lebanon that our Palestinian people’s option is resistance and resistance only.” Two days later, another suicide bomber struck again at an Arab-owned restaurant in Haifa killing 14 Arab and Jewish guests. Again Hamas took credit.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wasted no time in taking advantage of the opening provided by these dastardly crimes. He compared the situation to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. He compared Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian people to Al Qaeda. He launched a full-scale invasion of the West Bank that included laying seige to Arafat whom he denounced as an “enemy.” This was to be a repeat of Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 in which he commanded the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatilla and the expulsion of Arafat.

The cycle of violence is causing vacillations within the Bush administration. On the one hand, the U.S. has described as “helpful” the Saudi peace plan. It also voted in favor of a United Nations Security Council resolution Mar. 30 calling on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. The resolution called on both sides to “move immediately to a meaningful cease-fire, immediate cessation of all acts of violence including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement, and destruction.” It was approved 14 to 0, with Syria abstaining.

Yet a few hours later, Bush, speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, made no mention of the U.N. resolution and instead gave full endorsement to Sharon’s military assault on Ramallah. He placed the entire onus on Arafat to stop the violence.

The waffling by the Bush administration reflects fierce pressures from ultra-right forces in the U.S. The Los Angeles Times reported in its April 3 edition that William Kristol and William J. Bennett, as well as the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal are using phrases like “amateur hour” and “Clintonite wishful thinking” to describe the administration’s policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial said, “The path to a calmer Mideast now lies not through Jerusalem but through Baghdad,” a call for a new war against Iraq.

“I don’t think you can have negotiations now,” said Bennett. “You have to fight it out. And then once they have fought it out, the United States can play a major role.” This is a call for Bush to support Sharon’s annihilation of the Palestinian people using U.S.-supplied weapons. Bush’s attacks on Arafat indicate that he is listening to Bennett.

But the Bush administration also faces powerful pressures in the other direction. The Arab nations have reacted with fury, blaming Washington for the plight of the Palestinian people. Sharon’s aim was to isolate Arafat or expel him from Palestine. Instead, Arafat’s standing among the Palestinian people is soaring. A delegation of international peace workers walked past the Israeli troops into the PNA headquarters and is now surrounding Arafat to protect him from assassination. The peace movement is beginning to rally here in the U.S. and around the world. The demand is “End the occupation! End the terrorism! Two states for two peoples.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com