It is not only our enemies that will be testing the young new American president. So will our allies. Or should I say ostensible allies? The latest test comes from Saudi Arabia. Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family and a former chief of Saudi intelligence, has penned an op-ed for the Financial Times with the headline: “Saudi patience is running out.”
The prince darkly warns Obama to adopt the Saudi peace plan for Israel…or else. The plan, in case you’ve forgotten, calls on Israel “to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognize the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.”
That this is not actually a solution to the Israeli-Arab dispute should be obvious to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of the region. If Israel were actually to withdraw from the West Bank, the almost certain result would be a toppling of a corrupt and deeply unpopular Fatah administration and its replacement with a popular and fanatical Hamas administration which would never accept Israel’s right to exist. Nominal recognition from a few more states such as Saudi Arabia would do nothing to solve Israel’s dire security problems emanating not only from Hamas and Hezbollah, but also from their sponsors in Syria and Iran. Further Israeli territorial concessions would have the same effect as its previous withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon, further emboldening its enemies to step up their attacks. Anyone who thinks that the ineffectual Saudis — any more than the ineffectual Egyptians who have already recognized Israel — would somehow protect Israel from the terrorists has been smoking a few hookahs too many.
Moreover, Prince Turki’s protestations of peace and goodwill are severely undercut by the rabid hostility his article exhibits toward Israel. He writes that the Israeli armed forces have “murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians” in the course of their “bloody attack on Gaza.” He also refers to Operation Cast Lead as a “calamity,” “butchery,” “the slaughter of innocents,” and a “disaster.” He lays almost all the blame for what happened at Israel’s feet — it was “Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians.”
And so on, in the typical way of anti-Israel zealots. Prince Turki concludes with a plea: “Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.”
It is hard not to laugh at a representative of one of the world’s most oppressive and intolerant regimes condemning the most democratic, liberal and tolerant government in the region as a “murderous… regime.” It is also hard to take seriously the prince’s professions of deep concern for the sufferings of Hamas, a terrorist group that is aligned with Saudi Arabia’s chief enemy, Iran, and whose destruction he would no doubt be delighted to witness.
This is part of the Saudi habit of trying to push new American administrations into being more “even-handed” in the Middle East — code for turning against Israel. Perhaps the Saudis really care about this issue. More likely they are eager to assert their anti-Israel credentials as a way to blunt Iran’s appeal and to bolster Saudi claims to preeminence in the Muslim world. It would be deeply unfortunate if, as appears likely, Obama plays into Saudi hands and acts as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is (a) the fulcrum of the Middle East and (b) resolvable through more American pressure on Israel. Neither proposition is remotely true, as the new president is likely to learn to his regret before too long.