- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2007

There is an Arab proverb that says: “The people of Mecca know their ravines better than anybody else.” No one knows the “ravines” of Mecca better than its visionary custodian, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. While the United States and Europe stood by powerless for months as Palestinian factions killed one another and jeopardized America’s plans for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, King Abdullah brought together the leaders of Hamas and Fatah in Mecca and got them to agree to bury their differences. Hosting the Mecca conference showed courage, vision and a desire for peace.

From Washington’s perspective, the Mecca summit should be viewed through the prism of history as a watershed moment. It averted a potentially disastrous situation for Palestinians: a civil war that threatened to push back their hopes for an independent homeland. The success of the Mecca summit solidified Abdullah’s growing reputation as the wise elder statesman of the Arab world, who’s always able to douse the flames of extremism and come up with practical compromises.

Unlike Iran’s rulers, who continue to fund terrorism, call for the elimination of Israel, promote extremism and act as the regions leading peace-breakers, Abdullah is striving to bring peace to the region. As his longtime aide, Abdulrahman Al-Saeed, points out, “King Abdullah is a genuine peace-maker. He believes profoundly in the importance of Palestinian justice and Arab unity and he is always searching for practical and peaceful solutions toward that goal.” There is another important aspect to Saudi Arabia’s deft diplomacy that the United States should appreciate. When the king is involved in conflict resolution, he is not seen as meddling into the affairs of others. Rather, as custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, his role as mediator is seen as an obligation. In short, his intervention will almost always be welcomed by a majority within the Arab-Muslim world.

Beyond his role as the “Arabian peacemaker,” King Abdullah has shown a commitment to bringing about internal reforms evidenced by the fresh faces appointed to leadership positions. The recent selection of Adel al-Jubeir as Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to Washington signals King Abdullah’s commitment to promoting the younger generation and infusing fresh blood into the political system. By choosing this young, able, Georgetown-educated diplomat to represent Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has also signaled a renewed dedication to strengthening U.S.-Saudi ties. Adel al-Jubeir is an astute observer of the U.S. political system and the first non-royal to serve as his country’s ambassador to Washington.

In addition to his role as wise elder monarch and promoter of young visionaries, the king has exhibited all the hallmarks of a world statesman by being a silent force behind stability in global energy markets. As the world’s largest producer of petroleum and home to more than 25 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves, King Abdullah is very much aware of the enormous responsibility Saudi Arabia bears in maintaining stability in the global economy. Accordingly, every time the virulent anti-American rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sends oil prices skyrocketing, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Mr. Naimi, calms the oil markets by emphasizing the stable supply of oil from OPEC producers.

It is in America’s interest for Washington to recognize the important role of Saudi Arabia’s wise monarch and make him an equal partner in bringing about peace and stability in the combustible Middle East. King Abdullah has the moral authority, religious credentials, personal dignity, generous soul and vision to lead an effort at a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah can announce a Marshall Plan — or emaar-al-amal in Arabic, literally meaning the hope of rebuilding) for the West Bank and Gaza Strip that could become the prelude to the two-state solution envisioned by President Bush. By calling upon the Arab world to invest surplus petrodollars into the Gaza Strip (high-rise buildings overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean) and West Bank (a “chunnel” from the West Bank to Gaza employing tens of thousands of Palestinians), Saudi Arabia would have given Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas what he has been denied to-date — economic viability and a chance to negotiate a lasting peace with Israel with a mandate from all Palestinians.

If Washington does not empower King Abdullah, the negative force and path of extremism exemplified by Mr. Ahmadinejad, Lebanon’s Hassan Nassrallah and Iran’s Ali Khamenei will fill the current power vacuum in the Middle East with hate and destruction. By listening to this wise Meccan, the United States can chart history and help bring peace and stability to the Middle East.

S. Rob Sobhani is president of Caspian Energy Consulting.

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