Arab gov’ts have different reasons for truce

CAIRO — Arab governments disagree on who to blame for starting the Middle East violence of the past week but, unlike Israel and the United States, they agree at least that the bombings should end immediately and talks should begin.

Lebanese Shiite group Hizbollah and its backers Syria and non-Arab Iran believe a truce at this stage would mark a significant political victory for Hizbollah, analysts say.

Israel attacked Lebanon last week after Hizbollah grabbed two Israeli soldiers in a raid into Israeli territory.

A truce would allow Hizbollah to retain its military position along the Israeli border in south Lebanon and would be able to negotiate indirectly with Israel, seeking Arab prisoners in exchange for the captured Israeli soldiers. For other Arab governments, especially conservative Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a truce would spare them further domestic embarrassment for their failure to stop Israel from killing hundreds of Lebanese, most of them civilians.

The conservatives, friendly towards the United States despite US support for Israel, privately blame Hizbollah for the crisis on the grounds that the raid into Israel was bound to provoke Israel into a destructive reaction, diplomats say.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in an interview with his party newspaper Watani Youm this week that people had the right to resist occupation. But he added: “This resistance must adhere to calculations of gain and loss.” Echoing criticisms by Saudi Arabia, he said Lebanese and Palestinian groups run the risk of sacrificing their strategic aims for the sake of tactical gains of doubtful value.

The force of the Israel response has put the Arab conservatives on the defensive at home, where public opinion is overwhelmingly anti-Israeli, and Washington’s public defence of Israel has aggravated their discomfort, analysts say.

Outside Lebanon, far from splitting Arabs along sectarian Sunni and Shi’ite lines, the conflict has exacerbated divisions between those hostile to the United States and US allies.

Unwelcome light

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the parent of political Islam in its Sunni Muslim version, has embraced the Shiite Hizbollah with enthusiasm, as have leftists and Arab nationalists.

Josh Stacher, an independent Cairo-based analyst, said conservative Arab governments were anxious for peace because the fighting cast an unwelcome light on their foreign policies.

“It (a ceasefire) means they don’t have to get into repressing demonstrators. If you beat up demonstrators over democracy, it looks bad enough. If you beat them up in this case, it exposes your quasi-support for Israel,” he added.

Seen from the Arab world, the United States is playing a familiar role in Middle East conflicts, thwarting attempts to arrange or impose a ceasefire while their Israeli allies try to complete their military objectives.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asked if the United States favoured an immediate ceasefire, said: “We all agree that it should happen as soon as possible when conditions are conducive to do so.” The United States took a similar position during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and as far back as the Middle East war of 1973, when US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger actively encouraged the Israelis to ignore a ceasefire and make last-minute tactical gains, according to government documents.

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