Among the least discussed aspects of President Obama’s European tour was his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah (or “Abdullah the Great,” as would-be Obama intelligence chief Charles Freeman likes to call him) in which the president endorsed the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.
The Saudi initiative is nowadays considered just another shorthand term for support for a 2-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians living happily ever after alongside each other. However, a short refresher course on the plan would reveal that it is anything but.
For those whose memories do not extend all the way back to 2002, the Saudi plan was promoted by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who claimed he and one of the Saudi royals had a Vulcan mind-meld moment and that the result was a peace plan that fell onto the Saudis’ desks like manna from heaven. For Friedman, it was a typical piece of self-promotion but for the Saudis it was a gift from the Times that kept on giving. In 2002 ,the Saudis had a big public relations problem stemming from the 9/11 attacks. Due to our typically parochial view of the world, most Americans identified the oil-rich Kingdom with Al Qaeda. But rather than change their guiding philosophy, the Saudis decided that it would be smarter to earn some good PR by pretending to make peace with Israel. And with an assist from the feckless Friedman, that’s just what they did.
Their peace plan did say they would recognize the State of Israel; that was certainly progress. But the details of their plan (which they have consistently said were not negotiable) also called for complete Israeli withdrawal from every centimeter of disputed land that Israel took in 1967, and recognition of the Palestinian “right of return.” Following through on the latter would flood Israel with millions of descendants of refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. So, despite the sweet talk, what the Saudi plan really calls for is two Palestinian states, albeit one with a sizeable number of Jews living there. In other words, the Saudi initiative is no peace plan at all, that is as long as you think Israel has a right to be the one Jewish state on the planet amid the 22 existing Arab countries (in most of which, including Saudi Arabia, Jews are not permitted to live).
Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, thinks making nice with the Saudis makes good diplomatic sense for the United States. But if he, like Bush, really wants to advance the cause of peace, he’ll tell his new Saudi pals to come up with a real peace plan. Who knows? Maybe Tom Friedman can even get a column out of it.