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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Viewpoint: US policy 'alienating' Arabs

By Dr Sa'eb Erekat
Former Palestinian chief negotiator

US President George W Bush
Dr Erekat: "Many Arabs distrust America's support of Israel"

As part of a BBC-led global debate about the United States' place in the world, former Palestinian chief negotiator Dr Sa'eb Erekat considers the future for US-Arab relations.

The United States and the Arab world are often portrayed as at odds with each other, fundamentally opposed and irreconcilably different.

This portrayal fails to take into account a basic dichotomy - that most of the Arab public admires US freedoms and democracy and bears no hostility to the Americans as a people.

But that same public is both horrified and angered by an American foreign policy which does little, if anything, to promote similar freedoms and democracy in the Middle East.

Americans perceive themselves as supporters of freedom and justice and the rule of law, but the image that American foreign policy projects to the Arab world is often the exact opposite.

The US counts among its allies Arab regimes which are not significantly more democratic than Saddam's Iraq
Dr Saeb Erekat

It is an image of a pseudo-colonialist power applying double standards and supporting illegitimate regimes while destroying others, all in an effort to advance its own economic and political interests.

From the Arab perspective, no single issue highlights America's lack of credibility more than America's unconditional support for Israel.

The double standards are overwhelming.

When Iraq violated UN resolutions, an unforgiving sanctions regime was applied for more than a decade before launching a full-scale war against the country.

Yasser Arafat
Dr Erekat: "The United States has snubbed Arafat"
Israel, which has for decades violated many more UN resolutions than Iraq, continues to receive billions of dollars in American annual aid.

The US openly states that it wishes to promote democracy in the Middle East, yet failed to bring democracy to any Arab country since 1991 and has yet to take any credible measures to bring democracy to Iraq.

The United States continues to count among its allies Arab regimes which are not significantly more democratic than Saddam Hussein's Iraq, while openly snubbing the only democratically elected Arab leader, Yasser Arafat.

Persuading Israel to end its occupation would no doubt strengthen American credibility
Dr Saeb Erekat

Unsurprisingly, America's tacit support for Israel's violations of international law and its brutal occupation of Palestinian territory do little to bolster the image of the US among the Arab and Muslim worlds.

But the situation is not beyond salvage.

Credible and determined steps to bring real democracy to the long-suffering Iraqi people would go a long way to dispelling the widespread belief that a post-war Iraq will be nothing but an American vassal state protecting US oil interests.

A sincere and no-nonsense approach to persuading Israel to end its occupation and abide by international law would no doubt strengthen American credibility not only among Arabs but all over the world.

Moreover, honestly addressing the causes of legitimate grievances will make America's war on terrorism much easier to win.

The programme was broadcast on BBC Two on Tuesday, 17 June, 2003 at 2100 BST.

BBC News Online also published an article by Dr Eran Lerman, Head of the US-Jewish Committee in Israel, as part of the What The World Thinks of America coverage.


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