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October 5, 2005
Kuwait Weighs Its Stance Towards Israel

Long one of the hard-line nations against Israel despite their American ties, Kuwait has served as a bastion of Arabic thought for decades. They housed Yasser Arafat and thousands of PLO activists during the group's heyday in the 70s and early 80s, when the entire movement went on the run. Now, however, the unilateral Gaza withdrawal has chnaged the calculations of the region, and Kuwait is no exception, the New York Times reports today:

Kuwaiti newspapers in recent days have floated the idea that the country could take steps to reduce hostility toward Israel as a means of helping the Palestinians, prompting a quiet debate about Kuwait's decades-old strategy of isolating Israel.

The discussion breaks long-held taboos and brushes at an emotionally explosive subject for Kuwaitis, who had long considered themselves among the standard-bearers for the Palestinian cause. But experts emphasize that it remains no more than a discussion at this point.

"After a long time, we have finally decided to leave the Palestinian cause to Palestinians, because it is they who are really concerned with this issue," Ahmed al-Jarallah, editor in chief of the English-language Arab Times, wrote in an editorial on Sept. 22.

In order to prove that Arabs are seeking peace, he contended, the Arab world must no longer use Palestinians as a tool of its policies. Referring to recent decisions by Bahrain, Qatar and Tunisia to ease their policies toward Israel, he said, "We Arabs have also reached a unanimous agreement to make peace with Israel as our strategic choice, before conducting negotiations with that country."

This change has taken a long time to take root in the country's conservative nature. It started with the first Gulf War, not just for the US's rescue of their nation, but also the forbearance of Israel from retaliation for Saddam's scud missiles. That refusal to answer the genuine act of war allowed the other Arabic countries to stand down. The Palestinian decision to stab the Kuwaitis in the back and throw in with Saddam opened their eyes to the nature of that conflict as well. It didn't cause the Kuwaitis to dump their cause entirely, but they now see it as a political conflict for open resolution, instead of the pan-Arabist terms in which they have traditionally viewed it before.

Rumors about lifting a trade embargo seem premature. The government wants it; for one thing, it cannot get favorable trading terms with the US while it remains in place. The more reactionary National Assembly would probably block, for now, any attempt to lift the embargo despite other Arab nations' direct negotiations with Israel on trade. However, the existence of the debate itself does show the progress towards multifactional democracy in Kuwait and the general failure of pan-Arabism. That might stick in the craw of pan-Islamists as well, even though Kuwait has hardly promoted that particular cause.

It appears that Ariel Sharon may have shown how much Israel gained by unilaterally forgoing Gaza, diplomatically and also fiscally, as it finally begins to gather trading partners in the region and sink the decades-long embargo on their production. His action not only made his military situation easier but also may result in the further isolation of the Palestinians, a group of people who operated under the delusion that the Arabists actually cared about their plight. Sharon, it seems, knew what he was doing.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 5, 2005 5:54 AM

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