• The U.S. and the Middle East Peace Process: Dennis Ross, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process, returned to the region once again, from 27 to 30 March 1998, in another attempt at shuttle diplomacy between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. This most recent trip was part of ongoing U.S. efforts to bring about a breakthrough in the yearlong impasse in which the peace process has been mired. No tangible results were achieved by the mission, particularly with regard to the main issue currently hampering the process, namely the first and second stages of Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank in compliance with the agreements reached between the two sides.

Following the return of Mr. Ross to Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright maintained that some progress had been made by his mission to revive the peace process and that the U.S. wanted to keep the momentum going. However, she affirmed that the minimal progress made in no way represented a breakthrough between the two sides. Stressing this point at a recent press conference, she stated "It is important that there has been some movement, but we also have to make very clear that there is a level of frustration both here and in the Middle East because the stalemate has gone on." She emphasized that "nothing has been done on the very important interim issues," involving such items as construction of a Palestinian airport, seaport and industrial park. In addition, she pointed out that the further redeployments of Israeli troops that had been promised had not been carried out.

The Israeli position remains one of intransigence, refusing even the modest U.S. proposal (the "American initiative"), which does not amount to representing full implementation of what was agreed upon between the two sides. The Israeli side also insists on canceling the third agreed-upon redeployment, which serves as further indication of the policy of the current government that aims to cast aside the agreements while accepting minimum responsibility for the consequences. Such an Israeli stance and attitude has caused a dangerous situation, which necessitates a serious position by the U.S., as the main cosponsor of the peace process, in order to salvage that process. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will adopt such a position.

  • OIC Summit Reaffirms Support for Palestine: The 25th Session of the Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), entitled "Session for Better Future for the Peoples of the Islamic Ummah", was held in Doha, Qatar from 15 to 17 March 1998. President Arafat led the Palestinian delegation to the session. Several important and comprehensive resolutions were adopted by the meeting, including resolutions on "The Question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict", "The City of Al-Quds Al-Sharif", "Al-Quds Fund and its Waqf" and on "The Current Situation of the Peace Process in the Middle East".

Those resolutions reaffirmed, inter alia, the OIC’s full support for the Palestinian leadership in its just struggle to bring an end to the Israeli occupation, establish and strengthen Palestinian national institutions and realize the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to return, to self-determination and to establish their own independent state on their national soil with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital. It was further reaffirmed that Al-Quds Al-Sharif forms an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967. The Ministers also reaffirmed their support for the Middle East peace process and the implementation of the agreements signed and urged the international community, particularly the cosponsors of the peace process, to exert more pressure on Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions, international law and the agreements reached. Moreover, with regard to current endeavors at the U.N., the Ministers called upon Member States to support the draft resolution on the "Full participation of Palestine in the work of the United Nations".