- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Saudi Arabia assumed a high-profile role as Middle East peace broker yesterday, with Crown Prince Abdullah reportedly saying he would bring his proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an upcoming summit of Arab leaders.

The proposal to trade Arab recognition of Israel for the return of Arab lands conquered in 1967 continued to percolate as the Saudi leader met with European foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Jeddah.

Crown Prince Abdullah told Mr. Solana that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict required immediate action.

"He considers the situation to be critical and that the region was going through a crucial time," Mr. Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, quoted Prince Abdullah as saying in the meeting. "He said he was determined to push forward with his ideas and would work with the Arab League to turn it into an initiative to be considered by next month's Arab summit in Beirut."

The Saudi peace plan was without details and was revealed recently in a conversation with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Arab leaders hailed the plan, but Israeli officials said it failed to mention the fate of Judaism's holiest site the Western Wall in Jerusalem as well as the fate of more than 3 million Palestinian refugees seeking to move into Israel.

The Saudi leader's top foreign policy adviser, Adel Jubeir, told the Associated Press in Washington on Tuesday that the plan was not designed to resolve all land issues.

"We are not in the real estate or zoning business. It's really up to Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria to negotiate, because it's their land," he said.

Analyst Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the rare Saudi venture into peace discussions came because the escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis threatened to destabilize the entire region.

"The key is that without some new catalyst, we're heading for escalation into a low-intensity conflict and some Israeli effort to create buffer zones that could turn this and may still turn this into a major war that threatens the stability of Jordan at the edge of what could be a major conflict with Iraq," Mr. Cordesman said in an interview.

The Saudis were upset after Prince Abdullah told President Bush in August that the situation between Israel and the Palestinians was intolerable and needed U.S. intervention, yet Mr. Bush failed to act, said Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Program at CSIS.

Mr. Bush was to have met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the United Nations, but he abandoned the plan after the September 11 terrorist attacks, she said.

"I was just in Saudi Arabia and met with the crown prince," she said. "He understands the Saudis need to be more open to the U.S. and take a leadership role or express more publicly the leadership it has naturally."

Saudi Arabia is the home of the two holiest Muslim shrines and is the world's leading oil exporter.

The peace plan "has to do with image but has more to do with the fact that they understand now, because of September 11, how deeply misunderstood they are in the United States."

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