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Emotions hardening across Arab world

At a Cairo summit this weekend, Arab leaders will discuss their response to Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

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Here in Jordan - the Arab country that enjoys the most cordial relations with the Jewish state - the notion of peace with Israel is encountering the sort of popular approval that witchcraft enjoyed in Salem.

A group of professional associations here is vowing to publish next week a "black list" of Jordanians who have had dealings with Israelis.

The only way off the list, the group's leader says, is for individuals to apologize publicly for their perceived misdeeds.

"We're doing this in light of recent events," says the group's president, Saleh al-Armouti, referring to three weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

"And because Israel is the enemy and remains the enemy," Mr. al-Armouti adds.

As Arab states meet this weekend in Cairo to fashion their response to the strife between Israelis and Palestinians, Jordan's situation illustrates just how difficult it is for many Arab leaders to promote peace with Israel.

The "Arab leaders are trying to use the summit to defuse a pretty hot and emotional situation in many of their countries," says Robert Pelletreau, a former Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for the Middle East. "The demonstrations are ostensibly in support of the Palestinians, but there are elements of them that are against the regimes" themselves.

While many leaders may see the strategic benefits of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and getting on with improving their economies, many of their citizens continue to see Israel as a nation of interlopers that should not be tolerated, much less courted as a peace partner.

Balancing what they see as their long-term goals with the demands of protesters will be priority No. 1 for the leaders meeting in Cairo.

Arab governance ranges from dictatorship to limited democracy, so leaders tend to regard any mass movement with suspicion. Calls for a change in policy can often give vent to desires for a change in government than cannot otherwise be expressed.


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