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{By Mohamed Elmasry -- The Globe and Mail}

"We believe we are the last victims of Hitler," a group of Palestinians told me after finishing their Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia this month. "Could you imagine, if we were battling an occupation force -- other than a Jewish one -- for the past 34 years, that the West would have kept silent for so long? Would it have
allowed the Israeli army repeatedly to shell Palestinian civilians by land, air and sea, killing hundreds and wounding thousands more?"

Others said: "Could you imagine the reaction if American-supplied F-16 fighters, warships, helicopters and tanks were shelling refugee camps anywhere on Earth other than in Palestine? If they were killing and wounding hundreds every month, demolishing the only shelters these refugees call home? Would the U.S. still keep silent? Wouldn't the American media be calling for this barbarism to stop?"

And others: "The West is feeling guilty for what it did to Europe's Jews. Fine. So now they let the Jews of Israel do what they see fit. And who pays the heaviest price? The Palestinians. Even worse, many Jews feel the West -- especially the U.S. -- is doing them a favor by not insisting that Israeli aggression must stop."

The above paragraphs are my gentle paraphrasing of angry, desperate words spoken by Palestinians who feel that the world -- including Arab and Muslim nations -- has abandoned them. They have little hope that the Arab summit in Beirut can produce any positive results. Little more than a declaration of support for "the Palestinians' right to resist Israeli occupation" is expected.

Nevertheless, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has offered a peace initiative that stipulates Arab states must recognize Israel and normalize relations with it, in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied in 1967. His initiative has elicited mixed reactions in the Arab world, in Israel, and
internationally. The only reason opposition from other Arab quarters is not louder is that this peace bid is coming from one of the most influential Arab capitals.

But Prince Abdullah's plan contains nothing that hasn't been on the table since the 1996 Cairo Arab summit, which also stipulated that Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel on its withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967.

Syria and Lebanon recently clarified the normalization demands by specifying that Israel must withdraw, respectively, from the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms.

Libya's Moammar Gadhafi was more vocal in his opposition to the Saudi idea. "It is impossible to have two countries on the [land of Palestine]," he said, suggesting, instead, that a single state -- "Isratine" -- be formed by both peoples under a United Nations- sponsored election. But the UN Security Council's recent resolution
ruled out a single-state solution, and endorsed for the first time the formation of a Palestinian state.

Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa said both the Saudi and Libyan initiatives would be discussed in Beirut in light of developments in the occupied territories, as well as in response to talks by several Arab countries with the United States and the European Union. The proposals, he added, share a goal of securing Palestinian rights. "I do not see that any of the ideas that are being floated or discussed among Arab countries contradict each other. It is always possible for us to reach a common agreement."

Let us hope he is right, because hope is all that Palestinians have left.

(Egyptian-born Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He recently returned from a visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.)






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