Peaceful relations or public relations?

Posted: Mar 06, 2002 12:00 AM
Peace in the Middle East must not come as a reward for terrorism. Until the Palestinians stop the violence, there will be no peace, and it would be a mistake for the United States to flash a diplomatic yellow light and encumber Israel's ability to defend itself. If the Arab world is serious about peace with Israel, Israel would make peace with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people would have their long-sought-after state. Recently, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah leaked word to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that he was thinking about proposing that the Arab world recognize Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territory it took during the 1967 war. This would require giving up a buffer zone against future attack and leave the country without defensible borders. Other than Egypt and Jordan, no other Arab nation has recognized Israel's right to exist, so this proposal may represent a breakthrough for genuine peace negotiations. Or it may be nothing more than a tactic designed to solve Saudi Arabia's image problem with the West. It's real when three patterns of behavior by the Saudis are readily discernable: They actively encourage Arab states at the upcoming Arab League summit and thereafter to declare that they are prepared to recognize Israel's right to exist within defensible borders, they call on the Palestinians to stop the violence, and they cease supporting groups and activities that promote or appear to promote violence and anti-Israeli myths and shibboleths. After Sept. 11, Saudi Arabia's political leaders condemned the attack, yet 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz, a nephew of King Fahd and the kingdom's most prominent businessman, lectured the United States on the need to change its policies toward the Palestinians, which he said led to the attack. In a recent Gallup Poll, almost two-thirds of the Saudi people said they have an unfavorable view of the United States. The Saudis are hard-working and decent people, and Pat Robertson was wrong to characterize all of Islam as a "religion of violence." But a people oppressed and manipulated by its leaders can be misled about who their true friends and enemies are. Saudi Arabia is a theocracy, ruled jointly by a royal family and fundamentalist Wahabi clerics, that is completely intolerant of all religions other than Islam and permits its people almost no civil rights. It also has been a major financier of radical Islamic schools in Pakistan and around the world, and it supports a number of extremist mosques in the United States that foment anti-American sentiment. Israel has made mistakes, but it is a thriving democracy with civil and political rights for all people, races and religions. Unfortunately, Israel is hated by much of the Arab world, and that world -- supported by Saudi Arabia -- waged four major wars against Israel trying to wipe it off the map. During the past decade, Yasser Arafat hijacked the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people when he swapped tank warfare for terrorist warfare, indoctrinated a generation of children to hate Jews and kill and established a regional terrorist network dedicated to destroying Israel. Saudi Arabia not only failed to condemn Palestinian terrorism but also provided considerable succor to the terrorists. The government-controlled Saudi media continues to allow incendiary characterizations of Jews as "apes and pigs and worms" reminiscent of Nazi Germany and unbecoming to a civilized nation. Suddenly media commentators in the 24-hour news cycle are in a swoon over the Saudi proposal, repeating on the half-hour how the Saudi "peace plan" is gaining momentum -- Little Mo -- among diplomats around the world. The New York Times calls on Vice President Dick Cheney to use his upcoming trip to the Middle East to "encourage support for the Saudi initiative." Arafat demands that the United States make a "very strong and very quick push" to create Big Mo for the Saudi plan. But the United States should do no such thing. The problem with the Saudi trial balloon is that we now know for certain what could only be surmised when the Israelis rejected it 35 years ago: It would leave Israel without defensible borders. Therefore, any attempt to pressure Israel into accepting the Saudi plan as it stands would violate U.N. Resolution 242, which not only does not require Israel to withdraw back into its pre-1967 borders but also guarantees Israel defensible borders. Acquiescing to the Saudi trial balloon as it was floated would be outright capitulation for Israel. The United States must not allow itself to be steamrolled by a possible Saudi public-relations play into interjecting itself inappropriately and prematurely. Now is the time to keep our powder dry and wait and see if Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world is willing and able to talk some sense into the Palestinian Authority.