Middle East and North Africa: Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

▪ 1994

      The bilateral agreement between Israel and the Palestinians for self-government in parts of the Israeli-occupied territories was signed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative Mahmoud Abbas in a historic ceremony on the U.S. White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. The accord was the most significant breakthrough in the Middle East peace process since the U.S.-brokered peace between Egypt and Israel in 1979. The Israeli concessions in the agreement came in return for PLO recognition of Israel, but the deal contained nothing for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled by Israel in 1948 and their descendants.

      The year began with the prospects for the success of the peace process, started in Madrid in 1991, apparently blighted by Israel's harsh tactics over 415 Palestinian deportees stranded in the no-man's-land between Israel and Lebanon. It ended with PLO units preparing to take over security duties in the Gaza Strip and Jericho in the West Bank, although the December 13 deadline for withdrawal by the Israelis from the Gaza Strip and Jericho was missed.

      PLO leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met on October 6 in Cairo for their first face-to-face negotiating session. They met again on December 12 but only to confirm that the deadline for Israeli withdrawal should be extended by 10 days. In talks in Paris, which ended on December 23, Israel reportedly offered to expand the Palestinian autonomous area in Jericho from 91 to 155 sq km (35 to 60 sq mi), a considerable advance to the Palestinian demand for 207 sq km (80 sq mi). However, there was little sign of progress on the main issue that plagued the talks, namely the question of who would have authority at the frontier crossings between the future Palestinian self-ruled areas, which bordered both Jordan and Egypt.

Arab-Israeli Relations.
      The groundwork on the historic Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO was undertaken largely at secret talks between negotiators in a lonely farmhouse in the Norwegian countryside outside Oslo. Although assisted by low-key Norwegian intermediaries, they achieved the accord in direct talks, without the participation or knowledge of any of the powerful outsiders from the U.S., Europe, or the moderate Arab states.

      The declaration ceremony in Washington included a symbolic handshake between Rabin and Arafat, but it was met with predictable anger from radicals. The Palestinian fundamentalist group Hamas, which had more support in Gaza than Arafat's Fatah group, announced that it would wage civil war if the deal went through.

      The agreement offered the Palestinians a chance to elect their own "interim self-government authority," or council. This would take control over taxation, health, education, welfare, tourism, and other sectors to be negotiated later. The military withdrawal was a key element that would start with the Gaza Strip and Jericho but would continue in 1994 with the Israeli military's withdrawal from "populous areas" in the West Bank.

      The leader of the Palestinian delegation to the multilateral peace talks, Haider Abdel-Shafi, described the agreement as less than the bare minimum. Among the issues that remained outstanding were the status of Israeli settlements, which were not to be discussed until permanent status talks started in 1996, and sovereignty over East Jerusalem, although Palestinians living there would be allowed to vote in the interim council elections on July 15, 1994. The deal also made no mention of compensation for refugees expelled in 1948 from their homes and property.

      The agreement was, however, welcomed by the international community, and the World Bank had drafted a $3 billion development plan for the occupied territories by the beginning of October. This prompted pledges of financial assistance totaling nearly $2 billion from donors at a Washington conference on October 1. An ad hoc liaison group was created by the conference; it comprised the U.S., Canada, the European Community (EC), Japan, Russia, Norway, and Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan were associate members. The World Bank was to act as the secretariat for the new group created after heated debate between the U.S. and the EC over its final form.

      In contrast with these amounts of aid pledged, the PLO produced its own $12 billion development plan for the West Bank and Gaza. In financing the projects, the PLO's usual bankers in the Gulf states were likely to prove reticent in light of the PLO's support for Iraq in the Kuwait crisis of 1990-91.

      Among Arab states the Syrian reaction was the most important, with Pres. Hafez al-Assad meeting Arafat on September 5, after which it was made clear that Assad neither "approved or rejected" the peace deal. Although the veteran Syrian leader remarked bitterly to the Egyptian daily Al Akhbar that "no-one had gained except Israel," his neutrality provided a boost to the peace process. Pres. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was predictably positive and played a significant role in the buildup to the accord, although this was not acknowledged in the speech making in Washington on September 13.

      In a much more low-key ceremony at the U.S. State Department on September 14, Jordan and Israel concluded an agreement on an agenda listing various issues for bilateral negotiation. The focus then switched to what commentators called "the Syrian track," although little progress was made in 1993. Syria was in no hurry to conclude a deal with Israel on the future of the Golan Heights, although its stated position was to exchange full peace with Israel for total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

      On April 14 Mubarak met Rabin at a summit that resulted in agreement on a number of issues: Israel accepted the return of up to 50 Palestinians deported before the outbreak of the intifada (uprising) in December 1987; Faisal al-Husseini, leader of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, was allowed to join the Washington peace talks; and Rabin agreed to the setting up of a Palestinian police force, which subsequently began undergoing training in Jordan. Egypt also kept the momentum for peace going when Israel's Peres met his Egyptian counterpart, Amr Moussa, and Mubarak in Cairo and Alexandria on July 4-5. Immediately afterward, Mubarak flew to Damascus to brief Assad. Egypt's mediator role also took on an important dimension when the Arab League met for a special meeting at the end of July to consider an Israeli attack on southern Lebanon. On July 31 a cease-fire was agreed on, and the crisis failed to derail the peace process.

      Rabin agreed on February 1, after mediation by the U.S. government, to allow the return of 101 of the 415 Palestinian deportees expelled from Israel into southern Lebanon on Dec. 17, 1992, and that all the others could return by the end of 1993. The U.S. agreed to find host countries for the detainees in the meantime. Two days later, however, Rabin told the Israeli Knesset (parliament) that Israel retained the right to make further expulsions.

      The ninth round of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Arabs opened in Washington on April 27 and broke up in mid-May with both sides blaming each other for the stalemate. Infighting between members of the Palestinian delegation inhibited progress, but Israel's decision to close off the West Bank and Gaza Strip on March 30 added to tensions. The closure decision followed the murder of two Israeli police officers at Hadera, Israel, on March 30, bringing to 17 the number of Israelis killed since December 1992. Multilateral talks on regional economic issues convened in Rome on May 4, with Israel succeeding in persuading the EC and the U.S. to provide up to $100 million in emergency aid to the occupied territories.

      When the 10th round of bilateral talks took place between June 15 and July 1 and once again ended inconclusively, there was no public indication of progress toward an accord. On June 7 Peres had asserted that Israel was "a stroke of a pen" away from a deal with Jordan and Syria. Speaking to settlers near the Golan Heights, Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Shohat said there would be no new long-term investments in the area.

      The 11th round of bilateral talks, which opened in Washington on August 31, were overshadowed by the announcement on August 30 of the Norwegian-brokered deal. Lebanon's foreign minister, Fares Bouez, reacted by complaining that the Palestinians had failed to explain their plan at a late-August meeting in Beirut. Subsequently, a 12th round of talks scheduled for late October was canceled.

      The personal standing of Arafat within the Palestinian movement came under fire, with some of his colleagues accusing him of selling out to Israel. Arafat claimed a convincing victory after two days of debate at the PLO central council, which ended in Tunis on October 12. The vote in favour of the accord was 63-8 with 9 abstentions. Among those who abstained was Farouk Qaddoumi, head of the PLO political department.

      Following the September accord, U.S. and Israeli officials pressed for the ending of the 43-year-old Arab boycott of Israel. At a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Arab ministers in New York City at the beginning of October, the Gulf states refused to give way, while Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan said lifting the boycott would be "economic suicide." Subsequently, a meeting of Arab boycott officials was canceled.

Regional Considerations.
      The Arab Islamic fundamentalist movement became a more significant force in 1993 but without achieving a breakthrough in terms of popular mobilization. The most dramatic operation in which the fundamentalists were implicated was the February 26 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, blamed on followers of the Egyptian divine Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was being held in the U.S. for alleged immigration offenses. On January 25 Mubarak said that extremism was threatening all aspects of life in Egypt.

      Saudi Arabia was at the forefront of Arab anger at the harsh treatment of Muslims by Serbs in occupied parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Speaking on June 1, King Fahd claimed that the world community was wavering and argued that only a firm stance against the Serbs would stop the extermination of the Bosnian Muslim people. The 21 foreign ministers at the Organization of Islamic Conference meeting in Karachi, Pak., on April 27 voted for a resolution calling for the UN to use all necessary means to stop the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia.

      The signatories of the 1991 Damascus Declaration—Egypt, Syria, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman)— met in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., on June 12-13 and renewed their condemnation of Iraq's continued threat to the region. However, they failed to take any practical measures to implement the economic program included in the declaration. The Abu Dhabi statement demanded increased ties with Iran based on the principles of noninterference in domestic affairs, but it reaffirmed the U.A.E.'s sovereignty over the disputed islands of Abu Musa and the uninhabited Greater and Lesser Tunbs. The eight states postponed a decision on Lebanon's application to join.

      It was reported on April 20 that Iran had restored the status quo on Abu Musa, dropping any restrictions on the movement of third-country nationals, which had been imposed in 1992. The U.A.E. claimed the restrictions violated a 1971 deal under which the two states shared administrative responsibilities for the islands but maintained their sovereignty claims.

      GCC heads of state, meeting for the annual summit in Saudi Arabia on December 20, discussed a broad range of economic issues, including tariffs, property, commercial arbitration, and the airline industry, according to the GCC undersecretary for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Quwaiz. The common tariff system was a key element in agreeing to a free-trade accord with the EC, but the GCC failed to settle the issue at a meeting of finance ministers in late October. Following its December 1992 summit meeting, the GCC's founding secretary-general, Abdullah Bishara, retired. He was succeeded on April 1 by a U.A.E. diplomat, Sheikh Fahim al-Qassimi. On April 15 Qassimi led GCC officials in a meeting of the EC-GCC joint cooperation committee to seek progress on the free-trade accord. This was followed by a formal EC-GCC foreign ministers meeting at the European Commission's headquarters on May 11, but there were few indications of major progress.

      On September 22 GCC trade ministers recommended that all six states join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, of which only Kuwait was a member, although earlier in 1993 Saudi Arabia had applied to join. Quwaiz said on September 22 that Bahrain, Qatar, and the U.A.E. were considering membership. In a separate regional meeting in Amman, Jordan, on June 12, electricity officials from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey agreed to a program to connect their electricity grids by the year 2002.

North African Affairs.
      Conservative Arab states in North Africa viewed with alarm the rising Islamic challenge in Algeria. On February 7 the Algerian regime extended its state of emergency indefinitely, although a demonstration on March 22 against Islamic violence in Algeria attracted 100,000 people. The kidnapping in Algeria of three French diplomats for a week in October sparked an exodus of expatriates, and the murder in December of 12 Croatian and Bosnian workers brought the foreign death toll to 23 since September.

      Morocco was boosted by a weakening of the nationalist Polisario Front in Western Sahara, although a meeting took place between Polisario officials and the Moroccan government on July 17-19 at El Aaiun in the disputed territory. The talks failed, however, to resolve the issue of voter eligibility in the proposed UN-sponsored referendum on the future of the ex-Spanish colony.

      The four-year-old Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) remained paralyzed by political differences between Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya. There was disagreement among the five partners over the Kuwait crisis in 1990-91, and this was heightened when Libya's AMU colleagues decided to follow the UN ruling on sanctions against Libya for its alleged role in the destruction of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

      The visit by Rabin to Rabat, Morocco, in September, on his way home from signing the accord with the PLO, was seen as an acknowledgement of Morocco's moderation and patient diplomacy. King Hassan, however, declined to follow up an Israeli invitation to visit Jerusalem. In a creative appointment on November 13, the Moroccan government named a Jewish Moroccan, Serge Berdugo, as tourism minister, the only Jewish minister in an Arab government.

      On May 13 at Ain Beni Mathar, Morocco, a ceremony took place to mark the beginning of work on the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline linking Algeria and Europe via Morocco. Relations between Algeria and Morocco were not judged sufficiently good, however, for heads of state to attend.

      New UN sanctions, including a freeze on foreign assets, went into force against Libya on December 1 following a vote in the UN Security Council on November 11 after four months of lobbying by the U.K., the U.S., and France. On August 13 the three countries had given Libya a deadline of October 1 to comply with UN Resolutions 731 and 748, but this ultimatum passed without compliance by the Libyans. Tripoli's response to the tougher sanctions was as contradictory as ever. While Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi threatened to burn Libya's oil fields and ports in a gesture of defiance to the West, Maltese mediators said Libya was willing to let a U.K. or U.S. judge preside at the trial of the alleged Lockerbie bombers.

      Tunisia and Morocco harboured hopes of closer ties with the EC. In Tunisia's case negotiators were seeking a comprehensive cooperation accord to improve substantially on the financial protocols and quota agreements that determined links across the Mediterranean. Morocco had abandoned its hopes of joining the EC but was seeking an improved economic accord. (JOHN WHELAN)

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Universalium. 2010.

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