In an unprecedented show of unity in the Middle East, President Clinton and the leaders of Israel and 13 Arab nations declared Wednesday that “peace will prevail” and vowed to wage a common war against terrorism.
Participants in the daylong “Summit of the Peacemakers,” which brought Israel, Saudi Arabia and several Persian Gulf states onto the same public stage for the first time, called for cutting the economic lifeline of Islamic militant organizations such as Hamas and for further international cooperation against terrorism.
“Today, the wall of division we face is not really between Arab and Israeli,” said Clinton, who convened the summit which also included leaders from Europe, Canada and the United Nations. “It is between … those who traffic in hate and terror and those who work for peace.”
Clinton said the recent deadly rash of suicide bombings in Israel was a desperate response to the advance of the IsraeliPalestinian peace accords. To the bombers, he said, “You will not succeed. Your day has passed.”
But whether the sweeping declarations of support from 29 nations and institutions will hold together the frayed peace process and translate into cooperation against terrorists on the ground is uncertain.
Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, co-hosts of the summit, declared the gathering a success, but the dark cloud hanging over the day at this sunny Red Sea resort was the knowledge that at any time Hamas could set off another human bomb in Israel.
Nonetheless, beyond the peace declarations and denunciations of terrorism was the unmistakable fact that, for the first time, Israel was recognized as a legitimate partner in the Middle East and that the weight of Arab world opinion had shifted against the bombers.
Iran, Iraq and Libya - countries that the United States says support terrorism - were not invited. They were the outcasts, while Israel was a participant, a remarkable turn of events.
Syria and Lebanon, the only countries still officially at war with Israel, turned down invitations to attend. Mubarak insisted, however, that Syrian President Hafez Assad still wants to continue U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel.
At the end of the conference, Clinton and Mubarak issued a joint statement saying the participants had agreed to prevent terrorists from using their countries to recruit, procure arms and raise money. They made a commitment to identify and cutt off the sources of funding for groups such as Hamas.
Israeli security officials note that, in addition to receiving funds from Iran, Hamas gets some financial support for social welfare programs from groups in the United States, Britain and Germany.
The summit communique also said the governments agreed to prosecute terrorists and to form a working group to pursue further cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Palestinians and several Arab countries had insisted that the communique put acts of terror by Israel on par with those committed by Islamic extremists.
Participants vowed to “reemphasize their strong condemnation of all acts of terror in all its abhorrent forms, whatever its motivation and whoever its perpetrator, including recent terrorist attacks in Israel.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal made the point when he put the Hamas bus bombings in the same category as the 1994 Hebron massacre, when Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein shot dead about 30 Muslims praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and the Israeli closure of the Palestinian territories that has caused severe shortages of food and medicines.
“Collective punishment, closures and every type of violence against innocent people will, in turn, generate more violence,” the prince warned.
In the face of such international solidarity, Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also reiterated their commitment to negotiating a permanent peace, although they could not resist laying their mutual grievances on the table.
Peres demanded “unequivocal fulfillment” of the peace accords, insisting that Arafat pursue Hamas to the end.
“Terrorism knows no borders, so borders must not restrain action to smash the terrorist snake,” Peres said.
“This terrorism is not anonymous. It has a name, it has an address. It has bank accounts, it has an infrastructure, it has networks camouflaged as charity organizations. It is spearheaded by a country - Iran,” he said.
The Palestinians, he said, “must fulfill the obligations of an elected authority. They must fight to prevent terror, which is causing the hardship in their midst. They must not tolerate murderous command centers. They must not permit illegal guns to aim at legal peace agreements.”
Arafat responded with an appeal for Israel to end its closure of Palestinian-run territories, which are now witnessing clashes over increasingly scarce food supplies. Medicine is also scarce, and the sealed borders prevent 60,000 Palestinian laborers from going to their jobs inside Israel.
“Collective punishment has never been a good instrument for providing peace and stability,” he said.