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Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Arabs want US to push Israel
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, in a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Arab leaders want to see a more balanced US role
By Frank Gardner in Cairo

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has said that it will be up to Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to decide on the timing of the next stage of the peace process.

General Powell made the comment in Egypt, after meeting President Hosni Mubarak.

He then moved on to Israel in a Middle East tour that is raising few hopes amongst Arabs.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, right, receives US Secretary of State Colin Powell upon his arrival in Israel
General Powell is on a tour of the area in an effort to advance peace
If the Arab world was looking for some sign of active American support from General Powell's visit it did not get it in Egypt where the US Secretary of State began his regional tour.

Arab leaders want the US to push Israel to quickly implement the terms of the Mitchell Report, before the current ceasefire collapses.

They want Israel to freeze all building of Jewish settlements, to ease the blockade on the Palestinian Territories, and to pull back its troops to positions they held before the current intifada uprising began last September.

Phase by phase

But Colin Powell made it clear that the measures laid out in the Mitchell Report have to be taken phase by phase.

In other words, he supports Israel's view that there can be no such confidence-building measures, nor a resumption of political negotiations, until Ariel Sharon is satisfied that the level of violence has dropped sufficiently.

Arabs believe that day may never come.

They suspect Ariel Sharon of endlessly delaying the moment when he will have to sit down and reveal what sort of a peace deal he is prepared to offer the Palestinians.

And many militants believe the whole Mitchell Report is just a US-Israeli plot to crush the intifada while delivering nothing to the Palestinians in return.

Washington is generally viewed here in the Arab world as being far too soft on its ally, Israel, and General Powell's tour is seen as an extension of a US foreign policy that is perceived as biased against Arabs in favour of Israel.

Double standard

Time and again Arabs point to UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 which call for Israel to withdraw from conquered Arab land.

They feel bitter that these resolutions are not enforced, while Iraq has been hemmed in by 11 years of UN sanctions.

Publicly the US gets bad press in the Arab world and editorials accuse General Powell of viewing the Middle East through the eyes of the Gulf War commander he once was.

But behind closed doors, in the rarefied atmosphere of international diplomacy, most Arab governments remain on warm terms with the Americans.

They need US aid and investment, and in many cases they feel they need US military protection.

Arab leaders still tell visitors like General Powell they would like to see a more balanced US role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But the harsh criticism of US policy that is voiced in the Arab world's official media is rarely matched in private.

America has many friends in the Arab world. But the Arab world does not want to be seen to be standing too close.

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See also:

27 Jun 01 | Middle East
US gives Israel 'free hand'
25 Jun 01 | Middle East
Greater Mid-East role urged for Europe
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Annan's Middle East progress
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