Fresh Arab ap­proach to­ward Iran, Pales­tine is needed now

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Osama Al-Sharif

The world is still abuzz over the Wik­iLeaks diplo­matic ca­bles rev­e­la­tions, which have caused both em­bar­rass­ment and anger in Washington and other ma­jor cap­i­tals. The press is still sift­ing through hun­dreds of thou­sands of clas­si­fied US diplo­matic ca­bles and ev­ery day sheds light on one is­sue or an­other.

There are two im­me­di­ate points which Arab lead­ers should take note of, re­gard­less of the per­ceived dam­age caused by the leaks in some cases. One con­cerns long-term re­la­tions with Iran and the need to chart an in­de­pen­dent Arab, par­tic­u­larly GCC, pol­icy to­ward Tehran. The sec­ond is the Pales­tine Ques­tion, which ap­pears to have re­gressed from be­ing the cen­tral cause for the Arabs, at least in the eye of US di­plo­mats in the re­gion, to be­com­ing a mar­ginal or side is­sue.

The first chal­lenge is enor­mous and ap­pears to have been un­der­es­ti­mated by Arab lead­ers. Iran's nu­clear am­bi­tions and its at­tempt to de­velop fuel en­rich­ment technology away from in­ter­na­tional su­per­vi­sion is a gen­uine cause for con­cern, in the Mid­dle East and else­where. But Iran's diplo­matic show­down with the West should not dic­tate Arab poli­cies. Our re­la­tion­ship with Tehran is much more com­plex. It in­volves the long-term se­cu­rity of the Gulf and the re­gion, bi­lat­eral re­la­tions at dif­fer­ent lev­els, Iran's in­volve­ment in Iraq, Le­banon, Ye­men and Pales­tine and cul­tural and re­li­gious ties. Iran is not an out­sider to this re­gion, but a ma­jor geopo­lit­i­cal player who is here to stay.

Is­rael and the West have their own agenda with re­gard to Iran and its nu­clear pro­gram. The Arabs should not be fol­low­ers; they have their own vested in­ter­ests to pro­tect and safe­guard. Their quar­rel with Iran cen­ters over spe­cific topics, most of which can be re­solved through di­rect talks and bind­ing as­sur­ances.

Cer­tainly the Arabs have no in­ter­est in see­ing an­other war con­fla­grate in the Gulf re­gion. We are yet to see an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And if a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion, with in­cal­cu­la­ble risks and out­come, does break out be­tween Iran and the West, the Arabs should re­sist be­ing sucked into it.

In­stead the Arabs have a strate­gic role to play, as does Turkey, in calm­ing Tehran's fears and en­cour­ag­ing it to com­pro­mise and open up. On the record, no Arab coun­try is against Iran's le­git­i­mate right to ac­quire nu­clear technology for peace­ful means. And if Iran's lat­est as­sur­ances that it will never at­tack a Mus­lim coun­try are to be taken at their face value, then the Arabs should launch a diplo­matic drive to hold Tehran to its word.

With a new round of ne­go­ti­a­tions this week tak­ing place in Geneva be­tween Iran and the 5+1 group of na­tions over Tehran's nu­clear pro­gram, the Arab world should ex­press sup­port and pro­vide ideas to make these talks fruit­ful. The al­ter­na­tives are fright­en­ing and pro­found. The reper­cus­sions to our re­gion will be dis­as­trous. It is piv­otal that key Arab na­tions de­bunk the al­le­ga­tions made in Wik­iLeaks ca­bles and come for­ward with a ges­ture of good­will to­ward Iran. The GCC sum­mit in Abu Dhabi was ex­pected to cover this mat­ter.

Such move will force Tehran to re­cip­ro­cate and to pro­vide as­sur­ances that its nu­clear pro­gram is in­deed peace­ful and threat­ens no one. If the Ira­nian lead­er­ship fails to make such pledges, then Arab lead­er­ships and pub­lic opin­ion will be united.

In the Manama Di­a­logue ear­lier in the week, Iran's For­eign Min­is­ter Manouchehr Mot­taki made some pos­i­tive state­ments, di­rected to his coun­try's neigh­bors. There is no rea­son why the Arabs should not re­spond in kind. Be­fore him Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad dis­counted the ef­fect of the Wik­iLeaks rev­e­la­tions and ac­cused the United States of at­tempt­ing to di­vide Mus­lims and stir re­gional trou­ble. While Arab and Mus­lim cap­i­tals re­futed the ve­rac­ity of al­le­ga­tions made in the Wik­iLeaks ca­bles, it is im­por­tant that they send a pos­i­tive sign to Tehran.

What is at stake is much more than Iran's nu­clear pro­gram, but its re­la­tion­ship with its Arab neigh­bors. The Arabs need to en­gage Tehran on many is­sues such as Iraq, Le­banon, Pales­tine and the se­cu­rity of the Gulf re­gion. It is there that Arab diplo­macy should fo­cus.

The Pales­tine Ques­tion has re­ceived lit­tle cov­er­age in the Wik­iLeaks doc­u­ments, so far. This is an is­sue that raises many ques­tions on the in­ten­tions of the whistle­blower site. As much as Iran, Iraq and oth­ers are im­por­tant it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that US for­eign pol­icy has not given at­ten­tion to the con­flict be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans. For mil­lions of Arabs and Mus­lims and for many na­tions around the world Is­rael's oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tinian lands and the fu­ture of the peace process re­main cen­tral. At a time when the US ap­pears to have failed to con­vince the Is­raeli govern­ment to ac­cept a three-month freeze on set­tle­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, the Arabs should step in and un­der­line the im­por­tance of re­solv­ing this decades-old con­flict.

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