Friday, March 01, 2002
Important correction to an earlier post: Abdullah's proposal (or whatever) is NOT the first time Saudi Arabia has proposed peace with Israel, on roughly similar terms to those now proposed. See this article in the Wall Street Journal for more history. A time capsule of prior Saudi proposals:
"Our plan recognizes the right of Israel to exist only after acceptance of a Palestinian state, the return to the 1967 borders and an end to the state of belligerency."
-- Prince Abdullah, November 1981.
"Saudi Arabia believes the time has come to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieve a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question."
-- Prince Saud Faisal, April 1991.
"This is exactly the idea I had in mind -- full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with U.N. resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalization of relations."
-- Crown Prince Abdullah, February 2002.
There is a bit of nuance to the new proposal. Specifically, it calls for full normalization, not just recognition, and it does not mention the so-called "right to return." But these nuances need to be clarified. Moreover, the Saudis have apparently not indicated in any direct way that they would accept compensated adjustment to the '67 boundaries. They've hinted, but they haven't said so. They'll need to, if this is to go anywhere.
All that said, I still think the Israeli and Western response should be encouraging rather than dismissive. The response should be of the following tone: (1) It's good to see Saudi Arabia trying to play a constructive role. (2) Saudi Arabia can only play such a role if it is willing to negotiate directly with Israel. The best way to prove this is to accept Israeli invitations to come to Jerusalem or to invite Israel's President or Prime Minister to Riyadh. (3) Israel has always recognized an Islamic interest in Jerusalem's holy sites, has always accepted the principle that the Palestinians must be self-governing, and has always accepted the necessity of withdrawing from the territories in the context of real peace. As a starting point for negotiations towards a comprehensive peace, therefore, the Saudi proposals are worth immediate exploration.
I think this is, roughly, the spirit in which the U.S. and Israel have responded, and now the ball is back in the Saudis' court. I still stand by my earlier statement that it is no longer in Israel's interest to be negotiating with Arafat, and therefore any progress that can be made in another venue is good. I also stand by my earlier statement that the salami process of Oslo should not be repeated, and that Israel should make no further concessions for the sake of a cease fire, only for the sake of an agreement of value. This was the position of both Netanyahu and Barak, and I still think it's correct.