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The Arab Ministers of Interior on Terrorism

On January 30-31st, 1999, the council of Arab Interior Ministers held its 16th meeting in Amman in an effort to consolidate a united policy on counter-terrorism, and to reaffirm the Arab counter-terrorism accords of April 1998. A general statement was issued “rejecting terrorism in all its forms,” while the participants vowed to “make any effort to fight terrorism.” They also gave their backing to an international conference to be held under the auspices of the United Nations. The statement distinguished between “terrorism and the right of people to struggle against foreign occupation and aggression by all means including armed struggle.”

An important element of the statement was a “promise to furnish all necessary aid to the Palestinian police,” and the agreement that “every state will separately coordinate its support for the Palestinian police with Arafat.”

The discussions of the meeting were closed to the Media and so far there has been very little information in the Arab Media. One exceptional was the weekly Al- Sabil, the organ of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and a prominent supporter of Hamas.

The interest of the Islamic movements in this meeting is obvious, because terrorism in our period in the Arab World implies primarily the various Islamic organizations and groups, which act in the framework of an Islamist fundamentalist or radical terrorism. The Islamic weekly therefore, chose to emphasize the disputes between various Arab states in this meeting.

According to Al-Sabil, many states, lead by Syria, had expressed disagreement with the accords, especially with regard to the extradition of criminals from one state to another. For this reason, only seven Arab states have thus far signed the accords: Jordan, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Sudan, plus the Palestinian Authority. According to Al-Sabil, so far only five states have presented their approval of the accords to the general secretariat of the Council of Arab Ministers of Interior.

Observers have pointed out that although the last meeting had expressed “the right of people to struggle against occupation and aggression,” there was no mention of Israel or “Israeli terrorism,” in contrast to the previous convention on April 1998. According to the secretary general of the council Dr. Ahmad al-Salim in his press conference, the denial of terrorism by the meeting “includes all the countries that initiate terrorism.”

Another disputed issue in the present meeting was the definition of terrorism, despite the fact that the Arab Interior ministers had already, at their meeting in Tunis in 1989, arrived at the following definition:

“Terrorism is every organized act of violence or threatening by violence that causes terror and fear, such as killing, assassination, kidnapping of hostages, airplanes or ships, and the use of bombing, aimed at achieving political objectives.”

The Islamic weekly obviously viewed with great antagonism and anxiety, the particular decision of the ministers of Interior expressing support for the Palestinian police. Naturally they see this article as aimed specifically against Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic groups. This general Arab support should be seen on the background of the arrests of hundreds of Hamas activists in the past year, together with the American involvement in Palestinian counter-terrorism as a consequence of the Wye River Accords.

To sum up, we can conclude that the issue of counter-terrorism in the Arab world will probably continue to be in dispute. For the tendency to legitimize the struggle against Israel is a two-edged sword. It cuts both ways—against Israel—and against secular Arab regimes, which suffer from Islamist terrorism no less than does Israel.