A deceitful ploy by a columnist and a prince - ten years onTechnorati Tag: Israel and Tom Friedman and Saudi Arabia.
In early February, 2002, Thomas Friedman wrote a column, Dear Arab League, pretending to be a letter to the Arab League from then-President Bush. The key lines are:
You need to face up to something: Ehud Barak gave us an Israeli peace plan, however rough. Bill Clinton then followed up with an American peace plan. Now is the time for an Arab peace plan. No more you guys sitting back complaining about everyone else's peace plans. It's time for you to put on the table not only what you want from Israel -- an end to occupation -- but what you collectively are ready to give in return. Arafat can't do it alone.You know what bugs me, guys? You want to pretend that Sharon just reappeared from outer space and that's when all the trouble started, and I'm just supporting him for no reason. That's not what happened. Sharon was unelectable in Israeli politics. What allowed him to re-emerge was Arafat's rejection of the Barak plan and the Clinton plan, and then his launching of an intifada with suicide bombings of Israeli pizza parlors.The column would have been forgettable if not for Friedman's follow up column, on February 17, 2002, An intriguing signal from the Saudi Crown Prince:
Earlier this month, I wrote a column suggesting that the 22 members of the Arab League, at their summit in Beirut on March 27 and 28, make a simple, clear-cut proposal to Israel to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse: In return for a total withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967, lines, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, the 22 members of the Arab League would offer Israel full diplomatic relations, normalized trade and security guarantees. Full withdrawal, in accord with U.N. Resolution 242, for full peace between Israel and the entire Arab world. Why not?I am currently in Saudi Arabia on a visit -- part of the Saudi opening to try to explain themselves better to the world in light of the fact that 15 Saudis were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. So I took the opportunity of a dinner with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, and de facto ruler, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, to try out the idea of this Arab League proposal. I knew that Jordan, Morocco and some key Arab League officials had been talking about this idea in private but had not dared to broach it publicly until one of the ''big boys'' -- Saudi Arabia or Egypt -- took the lead.After I laid out this idea, the crown prince looked at me with mock astonishment and said, ''Have you broken into my desk?''The column was a news event. A columnist had proposed a peace plan that had been agreed to by the Saudi Crown Prince. Propelled by the self interested follow up "reporting" by the New York Times, the President found the idea to be interesting. The Israelis were skeptical. For the next few weeks Crown Prince Abdullah toured the Middle East to build support for his proposal ahead of the Arab League meeting. He received support though some of it was qualified.
Interestingly, the Security Council refused to endorse the proposal.
The Saudi plan for putting an end to conflict in the Middle East, based on Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories in return for normal relations with Arab nations, is not likely to be endorsed quickly by the Security Council, diplomats said here today.Even leaving aside the contradictory reactions the proposal has elicited from the Israeli government and Palestinians, there may be obstacles created by the plan itself as backed by the summit-level meeting of Arab leaders in Beirut.Some provisions in the plan run counter to existing Security Council resolutions, an official here said. Among these is the call by the Saudi plan for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. The Council does not consider Israel to be in control of any Lebanese land after the Israeli withdrawal from the border area two years ago. In Beirut this week, Lebanon revived its claim to a small part of the Israeli-held Golan Heights known as the Sheba Farms.This was the real deal killer. According to the UN Israel had fully withdrawn from Lebanon two years earlier. However in order to get support from Bashar Assad, Abdullah agreed to include language calling on Israel to withdraw also from Lebanese territory. Shebaa Farms had been captured from Syria in 1967, so Syria was effectively ceding territory to Lebanon for no purpose other than to maintain Lebanon's grievance against Israel! In other words, the Arab League proposal effectively declared a concrete Israeli effort to make peace null and void, retroactively.
The general problem with the Arab League proposal was that it was always very specific and concrete in its demands of Israel but nebulous in terms of what the Arab League promised in return.Why, for example, didn't the initiative include an immediate commitment to allow the Mogen David Adom membership in the International Committee of the Red Cross? That could have been done as a "confidence building measure" on humanitarian grounds. If the peace initiative were sincere it would have shown some flexibility.
In 2005, Israel withdrew its citizens from Gaza. This was a step that was demanded by the Saudi "peace initiative." How did the Arab world react? Here's how the New York Times described the reaction:
Yet whatever brief elation was felt in the early days of the pullout was exceeded by fear that Israel's move might in fact hamper the longer term prospect for a Palestinian state to be created in Gaza and the West Bank. The pullout may have put pressure on Arab governments, which will find it hard to demand further concessions from the Israeli government soon.''Sharon trumped them,'' said Mohammed al Ameer, political editor at the Saudi daily Al Riyadh. ''The Arabs are in a difficult position now because they have been presented with an olive branch and must do something in return.''The pullout also hampers the propaganda war in the Arab world. Gaza, the site of some of the most violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis, has become synonymous with the Israeli occupation, images of which have been beamed into Arab homes nightly. With ostensibly fewer confrontations and fewer images of violence in Gaza, the Palestinians' case against Israel becomes less telegenic, if not less immediate.If the initiative had been sincere the Arabs shouldn't have felt "pressure" to do anything. They should have applauded unreservedly. Israel had just fulfilled one of the demands the Arab Leagues was making for peace and according to this, the Arab world was more concerned with its lessened ability to wage a propaganda war against Israel! Of course there was no reciprocal gesture to Israel to demonstrate the Arab League's approval of the withdrawal from Gaza.
The past year, however has demonstrated another problem with the initiative - many of the dictators who were offering the initiative, have been shown to be quite unpopular at home. What if Israel had agreed to terms with the Arabs and withdrawn from all territory captured in 1967, where would Israel be now if the new leaders said, "That's what Qaddafi/Mubarak/Saleh ... agreed to, we are no longer obligated by the terms of the treaty?"
Indeed, Friedman himself, in a column End of Mideast Wholesale, last year, wrote:
Let’s start with Israel. For the last 30 years, Israel enjoyed peace with Egypt wholesale — by having peace with just one man, Hosni Mubarak. That sale is over. Today, post-Mubarak, to sustain the peace treaty with Egypt in any kind of stable manner, Israel is going to have to pay retail. It is going to have to make peace with 85 million Egyptians. The days in which one phone call by Israel to Mubarak could shut down any crisis in relations are over.In other words, if Egyptians don't like the Camp David Accords, it's up to Israel to make further concessions in order to mollify them.
This suggests a larger question that Friedman never addresses. He was promoting the Saudi Peace Initiative as recently as September, 2010. If Friedman, as his recent writings suggest, really believes that the unelected despots have no legitimacy, how would he view agreements that they made? His reaction to Egypt suggests that he believes that the Arab commitments to Israel to be reversible, opening Israel up to untold future demands in the name of "peace."
Ten years later, it is impossible to look back at the Arab Peace Initiative and conclude that it was anything other than a scarcely disguised public relations event designed to rehabilitate Saudi Arabia's image and put diplomatic pressure on Israel.
Since then Thomas Friedman won his third Pulitzer (probably in part due to this stunt) and Crown Prince Abdullah officially succeeded his half brother to the throne. It took until December 2005, for Israel to defeat the so-called "Aqsa intifada." In the meantime, Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas had regularly turned down peace proposals offered by Israel.
In other words, the past ten years have exposed the Arab Peace Initiative as an empty fraud. It may have benefited the principles - Friedman and Abdullah - with at least some good press, but their own actions subsequently have demonstrated that even they never really ever believed in it.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012