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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 06:49 GMT 07:49 UK

World: Middle East

Analysis: A Mickey Mouse affair?

Millennium show is meant to "highlight those things that bind humanity"

By News Online's Martin Asser

Few events in recent years have galvanised Arab governments into action as much as Israel's millennium exhibit in a theme park in far-away Florida.

Disney's Millennium Village, which will open on 1 October, features displays by a number of countries - in the words of the hype - "to highlight those things that bind humanity".

Disney has probably succeeded in doing this, but not in the way it intended.

[ image: Arafat will discuss the future of Jerusalem in final status talks]
Arafat will discuss the future of Jerusalem in final status talks
Israel's exhibit apparently seeks to reinforce the idea of Jerusalem as Israel's "eternal, undivided" capital and its central role in Jewish life.

Arab hackles rose and the first Arab murmurings of an official boycott came from the United Arab Emirates early in September.

Jerusalem's east side was captured by Israel in June 1967, during the so-called Six-Day War.

The Jewish state has been in illegal occupation of this part of the city since then. It even annexed its eastern suburbs, something it has never attempted in the other occupied lands.

Boycott threats

Arab diplomats expressed unease that Israel was hoping to further its territorial plans at this non-political event - one in which both Saudi Arabia and Morocco were participants.

[ image: Disney's magic touch failed to prevent controversy at the Millennium Village]
Disney's magic touch failed to prevent controversy at the Millennium Village
The Disney Company almost succeeded in heading off the crisis, announcing on 18 September that the display "would not show Jerusalem as Israel's capital".

But by this time even the Arab League in full voice against Disney. The League had emerged successful from campaign against Burger King, for opening a restaurant in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The burger giant said it had been misled by its Israeli partners and tore up the contract, against a chorus of Israeli criticism.

Retailers and broadcasters of Disney material have also taken up the cause. Consumers have followed suit. The company could lose hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of business in the region.

After years of wide-ranging and ineffectual "anti-Zionist" boycotting, it looks like the Arab world has finally woken up to the tactic of targeting and hitting hard offenders of Arab political sensibilities.

Soft and furry target

A lone voice of Arab dissent has come from Prince Walid Bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire and substantial Disney shareholder.

One of his advisors has accused Arab states of "trying to be smart" with Disney, because they are unwilling or unable to mess with the real enemy.

[ image: What they think of the peace process in the Palestinian refugee camps]
What they think of the peace process in the Palestinian refugee camps
Looked at in this way, it does seem as though the Arab League, after years of disagreement and impotence, has rounded on a soft target.

After all, the cynics point out, Yasser Arafat himself has only just resumed final status talks which could end up legitimising Israel's illegal occupation of most of the city, in return for another symbolic capital close to, perhaps linked with, the Muslim holy places.

Furthermore, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced he did not think any of 3.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to their homes "under any circumstances", the Arab leaderships stayed silent.

In other words, the battles of Burger King and Mickey Mouse show that Arab leaders can flex their financial muscles, but not yet turn the tables on what many Arab citizens see as an unjust peace process.

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