What wasn't heard out of Crawford, Texas

Posted: May 01, 2002 12:00 AM
During the last two weeks, I had two grandchildren turn 12 and another turn 7. Like most American kids, they spend their time studying, playing and thinking about growing up and going to college. Meanwhile, too many Palestinian children think about killing Jews and dying. It is heartbreaking to read how some parents and political leaders encourage their kids to become suicide murderers. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade reports it has 200 young women ready to turn themselves into human bombs. Even PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's wife says she would send her son -- if she had one -- off to blow himself up to kill Jews. This sickness must stop. The entire Arab world must speak out against it and put whatever pressure is necessary on the Palestinians to end the suicide murders. Despite some of the positive news we heard come out of the meeting in Crawford, Texas, between President George W. Bush and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, we didn't hear much about this subject. The president said he and the prince formed a "strong personal bond." That's a good thing, I suppose, but I felt a twinge of apprehension when a White House official was quoted as saying the meeting was "very warm and quite personal." If history is any guide, it's the warm and fuzzy diplomatic meetings where American politicians lose their shirts. That's why what we heard come out of Crawford was of less concern that what we didn't hear. We expected the prince to deliver the patented "nonthreat threat." It works this way: Before the meeting, "reliable Saudi sources" leak to The New York Times reports that Saudi Arabia is on the verge of ordering the U.S. military out and some members of the royal family want to use the oil weapon against the United States. At the meeting, the prince demonstrates avuncular concern for the young American president and "alerts" him, as the Washington Post put it, of the dangers that can befall the United States if it doesn't put more pressure on Israel because "the region is rapidly spinning out of control, U.S. interests in the Arab world are in grave danger and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, if left to his own devices, will take the region over a cliff." This plays like a scene right out of "The Sopranos." We didn't hear that Bush demonstrated equal "concern" for Saudi Arabia by "alerting" the prince to "dangers that can befall" it if Arafat insists on "taking the region over a cliff." We didn't hear that the president reminded the prince that many terrorists and much financing of terrorism come from Saudi Arabia, and much of the anger and instability in the Middle East results from thousands of Saudi-financed madrasah schools that indoctrinate children into radical Islam and threaten to turn the war against terrorism into a war of Islam against Israel and the West. We didn't hear the president say how unseemly it was for the Saudi ambassador to Britain to write poetry in praise of homicide bombers. We didn't hear that the president pulled Abdullah aside and offered him a little friendly advice about how he undermined Saudi legitimacy in the eyes of America and Israel by including in his traveling delegation radical Prince Abdul, the king's youngest son. Prince Abdul is tied closely to Al-Buraik, a radical Wahhabi cleric who spews hatred and incites violence against America and Israel on Saudi TV. It was, for example, Al-Buraik who hosted the recent Saudi telethon fund-raiser that raised $109 million for Palestinian "martyrs," including homicide bombers, during which he said America "is the root of all evils and wickedness on Earth" and advised Muslims, "The Jews' women are yours to take. Why don't you enslave their women? Why don't you pillage them?" We didn't hear whether the president pressured him on human rights, for example the horrifying actions of the Saudi religious police who killed 14 teen-age girls when they forcibly prevented them from fleeing a burning building because they were not dressed according to the strict Islamic code. We did hear a subtle but real elaboration of the prince's earlier peace proposal that seems to offer more room for negotiation. Unfortunately, what we didn't hear was Abdullah say he was willing to meet with Israel and encourage other Arab states to do the same to hammer out the details. A real solution to the conflict requires that other states of the region become active participants in the peace process. There is talk of convening an international peace conference patterned after the Madrid conference of 1991. I have my doubts about the idea. First, given the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world, it would almost certainly turn into a gang-up on Israel. Second, it is not consistent with Bush's strategy for peace in the Middle East, which is to have the United States urge Israel toward a settlement while Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt pressure the Palestinians toward a settlement. A regional conference that makes other Arab states of the region parties to the negotiations and active participants in the solution would fit Bush's model and be much more productive, particularly if the United States and our allies help rebuild the Palestinian infrastructure.