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Arabs Greet Albright Visit With Skepticism

September 11, 1997|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAIRO — Arab leaders, analysts and commentators have expressed skepticism about Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's Mideast mission, questioning if the United States is even interested in being a fair arbitrator of the dispute on how to revive the flagging peace process.

Arab thinkers almost unanimously say they expect Albright to focus on Israel's security concerns instead of what they see as the root problem--the fading of any political solution that would give hope to the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and West Bank. If there is no hope for the Palestinians, there will always be unrest and violence, their argument goes.

"She has to address the core if she wants to help salvage the peace process," said Amir Moussa, the Egyptian foreign minister. "Her main task is to deal with the situation, and not from one aspect--security."

Arab leaders have been calling for Albright to work to revive all tracks of the peace process and return negotiations to the land-for-peace principle.

"If only she did that!" wrote Abdelbari Atwan, editor of Al Quds al Arabi, a newspaper circulated in many Arab countries. "Regrettably, she won't."

The pessimism is fueled by a sense that the U.S. under President Clinton has shown no interest in exerting real pressure on Israel. Instead, analysts here see the U.S. only pushing the Arabs to clamp down on terrorists and to accept construction and expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

"The two U.S. roles--the protector of Israel and the impartial mediator of fair Arab-Israeli peace--are clearly incompatible," said Jordanian commentator Rami Khouri, predicting that "if Albright is coming to the region to perpetuate the incompatibility, she will be received politely and will go home politely, another confused and failed mediator."

U.S. diplomats "cannot even verbalize the wrong and illegal things that Israel is doing," he said. "They just allude to them in diplomatic mumbo-jumbo."

The managing editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, Khairallah Khairallah, said extremists on the Arab and Israeli sides have linked up in an unholy alliance. "Extremism on the Israeli side feeds extremism on the Arab side and vice versa. The logical thing for the U.S. administration would be to seek to break this cycle," he said.

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