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Saudi-Israeli Contacts.

Writing in The Boston Globe of Feb. 14, columnist HDS Greenway said: "Almost 30 years ago, after a reporting trip to Saudi Arabia, I visited Israel's statesman, Shimon Peres. It seemed to me, I said, that there were mutual concerns that might warrant a degree of quiet cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia: Both were enemies of the Soviet Union, both were close allies of the United States, both feared the militant Palestinians. Peres looked at me closely and said in that deep, rumbling voice: 'The Saudis are like shrimp. You may like them, but there is no way you can say they are kosher'. He didn't think the climate in the Middle East at the time would permit even a back stage dialogue with Saudi Arabia, albeit from time to time there had been feelers. Three decades later, the Saudis are turning out to be very much kosher.

"Israeli leaders and Saudis have held secret meetings about a Palestinian state and the dangers from Iran and the Shiite surge in Iraq. Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of its status as the birthplace of Islam, brought the leaders of Hamas and Fatah together in Mecca... The Saudis have spoken to the Iranians about trying to avoid a civil war in Lebanon, and King Abdullah actually met with leaders of Hizbullah, considered to be Iran's cat's paw in the Levant.

"The reason for all this Saudi hustle is the perceived need for the Sunni world to unite in the face of a Shiite and Iranian threat. It is because of a perception that the Americans have dissipated their power and influence in the Middle East. Expected in the coming weeks will be a renewed effort to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict building on the Saudi king's 2002 effort, endorsed by the entire Arab League, to grant full diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state based on the borders of 1967.

"Ironically both Israel and Saudi Arabia see a possibility of constructive engagement with Syria, perhaps leading to a deal on the Golan Heights. But the hallmark of President George W. Bush's foreign policy is still confrontation, and Washington is discouraging rapprochement with Damascus. Because Saudi Arabia is a kingdom doesn't mean there aren't warring factions among princes. This was illustrated most recently when Prince Turki [al-Faisal], ambassador to the United States, abruptly resigned when he learned that his predecessor, Prince Bandar, had made a secret trip to Washington to undermine him. Prince Turki advocates a less confrontational approach to Iran, and does not want to alienate the Arab world's Shiite minority, many of whom live in the oil-producing...[Eastern Province] of his kingdom.

"The Bush administration is reluctantly going along with this new push to at least be seen to be trying to solve the Israel-Palestinian problem as the price for an anti-Iran Arab coalition. And Bush can claim that he is the first US president to advocate a Palestinian state. But as Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi has written in his book about the Palestinians, 'The Iron Cage', Bush has effectively repudiated one of the core principles of Security Council Resolution 242: the 'inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war'".

In a 2004 letter of understanding to then-PM Ariel Sharon, Bush reversed decades of US policy by saying America would recognise "new realities on the ground", which meant recognising the legality of Jewish settlements on territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Khalidi argues: By bending of the principles of 242, "the bedrock of peacemaking in the Middle East since the 1960s", Bush has diminished the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. Thus, as Sharon said, his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would mean there would be no Palestinian state for the foreseeable future on the West Bank. As Sharon's adviser Dov Weisglass put it, the concept was put into "formaldehyde".

Khalidi says: The Bush-Sharon understanding meant the US endorsed not just "one or two settlements, but several vast settlement blocs, including in particular those which choke off East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland", which would reduce the remaining Palestinian territory to a "patch work of open-air prison camps".

It seems that any new Arab initiative will have to offer Israel more territory than a retreat to 1967 borders. But it is unlikely that either the Saudis, or the Palestinians, could accept the iron cage which the Bush-Sharon understanding would create.

In the meantime, however, the Bush administration is backing a Saudi initiative to resolve the Lebanese crisis through dialogue with Iran. Tehran is hoping this could eventually lead to a US-Iran dialogue.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Feb 19, 2007
Previous Article:Saudi Statesmanship.
Next Article:The Lebanese Crisis.

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