Wednesday, March 28, 2007

During her visit to the Middle East this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been touting a peace plan advocated by Saudi Arabia as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — even though it has serious flaws that have raised well-founded concerns from a dovish Israeli government. Parts of the Saudi plan, particularly the proposal for a peace agreement in which the Arab states agree to recognize Israel, are indeed laudable and deserve support. Other parts, particularly provisions demanding that Israel yield all of the West Bank territory it captured in a defensive war and return to its precarious pre-1967 borders; requiring that it yield the Golan Heights to a Syrian Ba’athist regime that is aligned with Iran; and leaving open the possibility that Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants might be permitted to return to their former homesteads inside what is now Israel, are unacceptable. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quite sensibly has asked that these provisions at a minimum be significantly modified.

Mr. Olmert got his answer from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday in the form of an ultimatum. Prince Saud said the proposal is non-negotiable, and suggested that Israel would be to blame if war broke out as a result of its failure to swallow it whole. “It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything,” he told the London Telegraph. If Israel does not agree to the offer, it will be putting its future “in the hands of the lords of war,” he added. (This apparently was the royal response to the hopes of Miss Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Saudi Arabia would make the plan the basis for future discussions with Israel, not a take-it-or-leave-it offer.) Yesterday Saudi King Abdullah opened an Arab summit meeting in Riyadh by calling “illegitimate” the U.S. military presence in Iraq and denouncing as “oppressive” the embargo on the terrorist-dominated Palestinian Authority government.

The U.S. government has invested considerable political time and effort over the years in trying to advance the cause of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Given the strategic importance of the Middle East to the United States, that is something this newspaper has strongly supported — in particular, the Bush administration’s work to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on the creation of an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. But in the real world, advancing any plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace today would appear to face tremendous if not insurmountable obstacles — so much so that it is difficult to understand why Miss Rice has seen fit to spend so much political capital in wartime on a diplomatic initiative with so little likelihood of success. Ever since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed their Declaration of Principles in September 1993 while a beaming President Clinton looked on, efforts to create a “peace process” worthy of the name have been crippled by incitement and terror from Arafat, Hamas and others on the Palestinian side.

Today, the Palestinian Authority that runs Gaza and aspires to run the West Bank is headed by a coalition government comprised of two organizations: 1) Fatah, which includes terrorists such as the Iranian-backed al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as well as ineffectual “moderates” such as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who make statements about nonviolence and “two-state solutions” when meeting with Miss Rice and Mr. Olmert, but do little or nothing of substance to make them a reality; and 2) Hamas, which remains committed to Israel’s destruction and reserves the right to continue “resistance” (terrorism and other acts of violence) against Israel. Given these realities, any peace plan would face an uphill battle — at best.

The Saudi plan had its origins at a March 2002 Arab summit meeting in Beirut — a meeting which was overshadowed by one of the most deadly terrorist campaigns in Israel’s history, culminating in the March 27, 2002, bombing by Hamas of a Passover seder at a hotel in Netanya, in which 30 people were killed. In response to these attacks, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield, sending the Israeli Army into the West Bank several days later to wipe out the terror cells Arafat had allowed to flourish there. As the fighting escalated, the Saudi initiative was largely forgotten until this year when the diplomats trotted it out in desperation for something they could plausibly call “progress.” If the Saudis want to be taken seriously as peacemakers, they need to stop issuing ultimatums to Israel and start issuing them to the Palestinian irredentists they continue to lavish money on.

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