- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah has given Europe, the United States, the Arab world and Israel something to talk about. Though not in official terms, Prince Abdullah has floated a proposal that Israel pull back to its pre-1967 borders in exchange for peace with the Arab world.
We have been around this one a few times before. Still, the fact that the Saudi leader is talking of making peace in the current atmosphere of increased violence between Palestinians and Israelis is something to talk about. It has been welcomed by the Bush administration and the European Union. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has called it a "very strong platform" for Middle East peace, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he is willing to meet with Saudi officials to discuss details.
If Prince Abdullah's proposal is supposed to be a starting point for discussions between Israelis and Palestinians, then it is worth exploring, especially if it creates the atmosphere needed for a cease-fire. Both the Bush administration and the Israelis, however, must remain committed to protecting the safety of Israeli civilians which would be compromised if Israel gives up land that protects its national security interests.
Saudi officials told the New York Times that they would be "open" to including Israeli sovereignty over the West Wall in the Old City, Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and areas of the West Bank if comparable concessions could be given on the Israeli side. But Israel would be required to make land concessions similar to those considered at Camp David under former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, concessions that weren't enough to satisfy Yasser Arafat then and left many Israelis feeling that their security had been pawned for prospective Palestinian goodwill.
For now, Prince Abdullah's proposal is nothing more than that it has yet to be presented at the Arab League summit on March 27, and it has not been seconded by the Arab world. In fact, the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations used an appearance before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, when he was expected to further articulate the Saudi proposal, to bitterly berate Israel and defend Palestinian terror tactics. If the Arab world does agree to recognize the state of Israel and its right to secure its borders, it would indeed be a fundamental shift, and it would make Mr. Arafat accountable for violations of that security. That might create a climate in which the U.S.-brokered peace plans of former Sen. George Mitchell and CIA Director George Tenet can finally be implemented. Or it might not.
Vice President Cheney goes to the Middle East this month. He should encourage the Arab League to reconsider its hostility to Israel. The ultimate test of the Arab world's true intentions will be whether it is able to stop Palestinian terrorism. We're not holding our breath, and neither should Israel.


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