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(photo credit: AP)
Less than two months before the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference is expected to convene, most of the Arab countries have yet to confirm their participation.
As is frequently the case, the Arab world appears to be divided over the event. So far, it seems that besides the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Egyptians are the only ones who have hinted that they may attend the parley, scheduled for mid-November.
Arab diplomats based in Cairo said in phone interviews with The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that the majority of the Arab leaders believe that the conference is just a "waste of time."
As one diplomat put it, "This conference is intended to make [US President George W.] Bush and [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice look good in the eyes of the Arabs and Muslims. The two are just trying to show some kind of an achievement before they leave office. Why should we, the Arabs, provide them with an excuse by going to such a conference?"
Another diplomat said his government was not keen on attending the conference "because Israel has nothing to offer."
He explained: "If anyone thinks that Israel is going to offer the Arabs something new, he is totally mistaken. [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert is facing many problems at home, and he's not in a position to make a serious offer."
According to the diplomats, the Arab leaders are afraid that failure to achieve tangible results at the conference would play into the hands of Arab extremists, who are opposed to any form of settlement with Israel.
"Our governments want assurances that the conference will be successful," they said. "We want to go the conference knowing that we will return with something that will satisfy the masses. Otherwise, the Arab masses will chase us away with their shoes."
The Arab countries' fears were echoed over the weekend by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said the conference must have a clear agenda and result in feasible decisions.
Mubarak warned that failure could lead to an eruption of violence in the Middle East.
"If they do not have an agenda, I fear the result will be dangerous for everyone," he said.
Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers who met in Cairo earlier this week to discuss the planned conference failed to reach a joint position. "The Arabs are very skeptical toward any role the US plays in the Israeli-Arab conflict," said a retired Jordanian diplomat in Amman. "They would prefer to see the United Nations, and not the US, sponsor such a conference. The US is regarded as Israel's strategic ally, and as such, the Americans can't play an impartial role."
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said as much at the Cairo meeting.
"We have suggested that the Quartet should take the initiative for an international peace conference, or it should be in the framework of the [UN] Security Council," he said, adding that the participants at the conference should focus on concrete issues, not content themselves with diplomatic niceties.
"It [the conference] should deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state and not serve as an occasion for salutes or greetings," he said.
In Damascus, meanwhile, the government-controlled Tishrin daily said that the US must revise its policy in the region if it wants the peace conference to succeed.
"What is the advantage of such a conference if those who have called for it are not [thinking] to reconsider their negative policies in the region and define its supposed target beforehand?" the paper wrote.
Washington's aim in holding the conference, the paper claimed, was to have Syria and Israel normalize relations while retaining the status quo. It said the Americans continued to view "our pending issues illogically and illegally and through an Israeli perspective."