CAIRO, Egypt – A senior Palestinian official said Tuesday it may be time for Egypt and Jordan to cut ties with Israel to protest its military offensive in the West Bank.
Nabil Shaath, a minister in Yasser Arafat's administration, said the Palestinians had never made such a call before but that Egypt and Jordan must now take "a serious step" to show their anger.
Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab nations to sign peace accords with Israel, have resisted calls to cut off their ties to the Jewish state, saying they are a way to influence Israeli policy. Their peace with Israel is also central to the countries' good relations with the United States.
The Palestinians want the Arab world to take "practical steps" against Israel — not merely issue denunciations, Shaath said. Asked if Egypt and Jordan should cut their ties with Israel, as some hard-line Arab nations have demanded, Shaath said: "I think so."
"We've never called for that before because we were seeking relations with the Israelis ourselves," Shaath told The Associated Press at the Arab League headquarters. "But today, Israel has destroyed every chance for the peace process."
The Palestinians were trying Tuesday to bring together a high-level Arab League gathering to take action against Israel — first seeking a summit, then saying they would settle for a meeting of Arab foreign ministers. But even a ministers' session appeared unlikely any time soon.
Arab leaders have struggled over how to respond to the violence after Israeli troops launched their offensive Friday, taking over several West Bank towns, battling Palestinian gunmen and conducting house-to-house sweeps in a bid to uproot militants blamed for a string of terror attacks. Israeli forces have had Arafat confined in his Ramallah offices for five days.
Tens of thousands of Arabs in countries across the region have held daily street protests since Friday, many denouncing their governments for not taking action against Israel.
Skirmishes broke out for a second straight day Tuesday at Cairo University, where a few hundred demonstrators tried to march out of the campus but were stopped by police. Police fired tear gas and water hoses at stone-throwing students and arrested 33 demonstrators. Fifteen demonstrators were also arrested in Helwan, near Cairo.
Asked whether Mideast producers should shut off the flow of oil to the West in response to U.S. support for Israel — another idea floated in angry Arab streets — Shaath didn't answer. "The Arabs need to make up their minds what they want to do," he said.
The 22-member Arab League held a hastily called session of their ambassadors Tuesday. The league called on the U.N. Security Council to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas and lift its siege of Arafat. It also asked the United Nations to send peacekeepers to oversee an Israeli withdrawal.