Comment: "Gulf War II: Kofi Annan in Tel Aviv"

With the exception of the clear disappointment in Tel Aviv at the results of Annan's successful mission to Iraq, the whole world seems to be relieved and happy - mostly, of course, the Arab people, but all peace-lovers in the world, who are by any standard a vast majority.

The peaceful end to the US-Iraq crisis has sparked deep and intense debate among Arabs, including Palestinians. Most Arabs and, for a change, most Arab governments, viewed the recent crisis as follows. The reason for the crisis was that Iraq refused to comply with Security Council resolutions, regardless of whether or not Iraq is convinced by the legitimacy of these resolutions. The major forces behind the Security Council led by the superpower, the United States, gave Iraq only two options: to comply peacefully or to be forced to comply.

The Arabs, for their part, both the public and their governments, firmly supported the international efforts to bring Iraq into compliance with UN resolutions, but suggested that it could be done using peaceful means, and they were prepared to participate with any such initiative.

This time around, Palestinians also had an official public position that was in harmony with the wider Arab position. Iraq wisely enough agreed to cooperate with the representative of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, and retreated from its position. This allowed an agreement to be reached which essentially allows the inspections as demanded by the Security Council.

Two major conclusions have since been floating around in the Arab world. The first one is that the strong Arab reservations against the use of force by the US against Iraq proved effective, since their opposition was one of the factors which convinced Iraq to be reasonable and convinced the United States to think twice before exercising the military option. The second conclusion Arabs have come to is that this is the style needed to deal successfully with the Arab-Israeli crisis, and particularly the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate.

This is what is missing from the Palestinian-Israeli peace process - first, a strong and unified Arab position that links US-Arab relations and Israel-Arab relations to the US and Israeli positions in the peace process and Israeli actions against Palestinians in particular. Also missing is a firm, proactive attitude and effort from the international community, perhaps once again represented by UN general-secretary Kofi Annan, that would confront Israel with two options, either eating the cake or losing it.

In short, Israel would be forced to choose between adherence to the principles at the core of the peace process - i.e., land for peace and all that entails in terms of giving up Israeli control over the Palestinian occupied territories in return for real peace - and normalization of relations with the Arab world.

Should such a firm position be taken, the whole peace process could well be placed in jeopardy with all the attendant consequences, including the reversal of Arab-Israeli relations and damage to Arab-American relations as well as possible damage to US-Israeli interests in the region and internationally. The region could well return to the pre-peace process status quo anti, with all the potential instability that implies.

While this is not beneficial for the Arabs in general or Palestinians in particular, the current stage of the peace process is extremely difficult for the Arabs and Palestinians, but more or less comfortable and possible to live with for the Israelis.