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Arabs Seek to Counter US-Israeli Regional Power

IN the first collective attempt to fill the vacuum left by the Soviet pull back from the Middle East, Arab nations have started a campaign to limit American influence in the region and counter its backing of Israel. A three day summit held in Baghdad this week avoided any criticism of the Soviet Union and pinned the ``major'' blame on Washington for what it terms Israel's policies of ``aggression, terrorism , expansion and intransigence.''

A full-fledged drive led by Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) successfully secured a resolution to confront United States policies, rather than criticizing the shift in Moscow's postion, as a means to counter the feared influx of Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel.

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Arab states - particularly Jordan and the PLO - view the expected influx of hundreds of thousands of Soviet immigrants to Israel as the most ``dangerous'' byproduct of the end of the Cold War. They fear the new arrivals will be settled in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, forcing a mass exodus of Palestininans to Jordan.

But according to Arab officials, Arab concern goes beyond the immigration issue to the balance of power in the region.

``We fear that these changes, combined with American support of Israel, will give [Israel] a free hand in the region,'' says a senior Arab official.

In a tough speech, Jordan's King Hussein, the traditional ally of the US, lent his full support to this anti-US line. In his view, Israel will be the main beneficiary of the regional changes and may enhance its role as the ``unchecked'' power in the region.

Arabs, King Hussein said, must try to fill the vacuum before they pay ``the price of the deal of balance of interests'' between Washington and Moscow.

There remains a lot of skepticism about the Arab leaders' ability and willingness to go beyond the usual rhetoric into collective action.

Optimists argue, however, that the resolutions include practical steps. Most are aimed at increasing the role of the United Nations and European countries in the peace process as a way of limiting US influence.

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They include a series of preemptive steps that seek to prevent Israel from annexing the occupied territories and expelling the Palestinians, imposing ``a Judaization of Jerusalem,'' and trying to carry out its claim that Jordan is the substitute homeland for the Palestinian people.

The key resolution states that Arab nations will take into consideration foreign countries' attitudes toward Soviet immigration and Palestinian national rights ``when assessing their relations'' with these countries.

The summit also called for international protection for Palestinians in the occupied territories and a UN observer mission to ensure that Israel will not pursue its settlement policy nor alter the legal and religious status of Jerusalem.

The summit showed two trends in the Arab world:

The first, led by Iraq and the PLO, believes that if the Arabs can achieve a level of unity, they can counter the emerging US-Israeli ``monopoly of the region.''

The second, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, argues that the Arab world should deal with the new situation in ``a reasitic manner,'' and avoid antagonizing ``the remaining superpower in the region.''

But despite Saudi and Egyptian efforts, the new ``radical camp'' prevailed at the summit.

Analysts cite the main factors leading to the radicals' triumph as: US support for Israel, its failure to recognize the PLO, the foundering peace process, continuining Israeli suppression of the Palestinian uprising, and increasing Palestinian radicalism in the face of the stalemate.

Recent Iraqi-US hostilities, have also been instrumental in hardening Arab attitudes.

Despite Egypt's strong objections in the discussions, officials view the results as a first step toward an effective reentry of Cairo as a major party in a newly redefined Arab-Israeli conflict.

Officials cited a resolution committing Arab countries to defend Jordan, if it were attacked and to impose sanctions against any country which ``considers Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.''

Many Arab analysts argue that the stability of Arab regimes might be at stake if the leaders do not make a serious attempt to pursue these resolutions.

``If the Israeli threat is not enough they would sure have to consider the rapid insurgence of radicalism and Islamic fundamentalism which has also started its drive to fill the vacuum,'' a Paris-based Arab analyst warns.

At the same time, Western diplomats in the region say the summit outcome will not seriously damage US-Arab relations.

``There is nothing in the resolution that should seriously worry the US at this stage,'' says a Western diplomat.

``We did not seek to declare war against the US,'' a PLO official says. ``We are just trying to make Washington reassess it's position toward the Palestinians and Arab rights.''

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