Peace prospects in the Middle East hinge heavily on the intentions of Yasser Arafat.
Virtually none of us can fully fathom the depths of despair and fear that a great majority of Israelis and Palestinians know in the tormented, bloody Middle East or decipher the mentalities of the people needed to alter the picture for the better.
The violence, killing and destruction continue as they have for centuries, and may, sadly, continue for centuries more. We keep seeing and reading about peace attempts, and there has been a recent uneasy "truce." But that may last only until the next rock is thrown or shot fired, regardless of the source. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak share almost no trust and face the almost impossible task of convincing their constituents of the merits of an agreement.
Further, there is more than passing evidence the conniving Arafat would like to see a full-scale war break out to strengthen his sometimes untenable position and prove how powerful his forces really are. Are power and control his goals rather than tranquility or at least dnte? His record for stepping in and trying to stop Palestinian violence is not impressive.
The frustration of the scenario is described well by the publication Il Giornale in Milan, Italy:
"The West cannot live without an agreement with Islam and no power exists in the world that can negotiate in the name of Islam. The West is caught with its hands tied. It must allow the legitimate governments of Muslim nations to exist. This cannot be negotiated. Not until Israel renounces its sovereign claims over mosques and Old Jerusulem. The West cannot support the Israelis to the point of pitting the governments of Islamic countries against their own people. Israel must recognize Jerusalem as a Muslim place. On the other hand it cannot. But if Israel chooses war, it will face less solidarity from the West which does not consider the war its own."
How fraught with peril is that situation ?If officials cannot arrange a peace, can they at least avoid war? Does Arafat really want either?
Writes the Guardian of London:
"Yasser Arafat's standing with his own people is shakier than at any time. He is increasingly in danger of being seen by them as the stooge of a discredited, U.S.-led scheme to circumvent U.N. resolutions, stifle Palestine's legitimate aspirations, and consolidate Israel's quasi-colonial dominance."
When a leader is in a dilemma of that nature, violence and war often are chosen as the routes to restore power. More and more, Arafat seems heading in that direction and the prospects for the Middle East and the rest of the world are terrifying.
Even the world's most powerful nations and leaders can in most cases only stand by and hope for something productive. The chances of that don't seem high at this point.