Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama: The Man With A Plan--A Saudi Peace Plan

I'm sure there's a message in here somewhere...

January 20, 2009
'I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .'
January 22, 2009
President Obama's first call 'was to President Abbas'

January 27, 2009
Obama chooses Arab network for first TV interview
January 27, 2009
Mitchell Arrives in Cairo
All 4 seem to be aimed, at least to some degree, towards building his Muslim creds and allowing him to isolate Hamas. So does the declared goal of Obama's phone calls:
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the talks with Middle East leaders underlined a “commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term”. He added: “In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, he emphasised his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating, in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, a major reconstruction effort.”
A State Department spokesman adds onto Mitchell's laundry list.

Besides Mitchell's stops not directly related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict...
A possible stop in Turkey will try to jumpstart Turkish mediated peace talks with Syria. A visit to Saudi Arabia is a nod to the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, which Obama said Thursday "contains constructive elements that could help advance these efforts." Mitchell will also make stops in Europe to make sure allies are all on board.
...there are a handful of odds and ends to take care of:
Spokesman Wood elaborated, "Special Envoy Mitchell will work to consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza, establish an effective and credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime to prevent the rearming of Hamas, facilitate the reopening of border crossings, and develop an effective response to the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinians in Gaza and eventual reconstruction, and reinvigorate the peace process."
That "nod to the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative" is a follow up to a speech that Obama gave last Thursday:
He called on Arab governments to "act on" the promise of a Saudi-led 2002 Arab peace initiative by supporting the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas "taking steps towards normalising relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all."
When Obama talks about there being an outline of what needs to be done in order to bring peace to the Middle East, he may very well be referring to the Saudi Peace Initiative. One reason Obama may be speaking so cautiously about the plan is because of the denials that came out last year that this plan was under consideration:
A senior adviser to Barack Obama on Sunday denied reports that the U.S. president-elect plans to throw his weight behind the 2002 Arab peace plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from all territories captured during the 1967 Six-Day War in exchange for normalized ties with the Arab world.

The British Sunday Times said Obama expressed this sentiment during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last July.

Dennis Ross, Obama's adviser on Middle East policy, issued a statement Sunday, saying "I was in the meeting in Ramallah. Then-senator Obama did not say this, the story is false."

...The Arab peace initiative, first approved by the Arab League in 2002 in Beirut (and reaffirmed last year), calls for Israel's withdrawal from all the territories and a solution to the refugee problem in exchange for an Arab recognition of the end to the conflict and normalization between Israel and all the Arab countries.
Of course, from Obama's viewpoint, the plan makes great sense--why not go with the plan that has the greatest amount of Arab support behind it, especially when Hamas has to a degree been marginalized by Operation Cast Lead and no longer has unified support, neither from the Arab World nor the EU.

Shmuel Rosner points out that in an assessment of the Saudi Peace Plan, given in Prevent Breakdown, Prepare for Breakthrough: How President Obama Can Promote Israeli-Palestinian Peace, David Pollack finds that one of the flaws in the plan is that
the Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel recognition under certain conditions. On the other hand, many of the same Arab governments that made this offer also give various forms of material, moral, and political support to Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction and dedicated to supplanting the rival Palestinian government that has formally offered to make peace.
The fact that this impediment has been weakened can only make the plan seem more appealing to Obama. Keep in mind that, as Ed Morrissey writes:
Obama reportedly told Mahmoud Abbas that “Israel would be crazy” not to accept the plan. He concluded that the Saudi plan would give Israel peace with the entire Muslim world.
So much for Obama's famous promise--later retracted--of keeping Jerusalem united. After all, according to the text of the Saudi Plan, the requirements on Israel's side are:
a. Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967 as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.

b. Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

c. The acceptance of the establishment of a Sovereign Independent Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
This as opposed to the daring steps to be taken by the Arab world:
a. Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.

b. Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.
And don't think that Saudi Arabia doesn't realize the enormous risk being taken--by the Arab world.

Rosner quotes from an article by Turki al-Faisal, who writes:
The Arab world is willing to pay a high price for peace, not only recognizing Israel as a legitimate state but also normalizing relations and putting a permanent end to the state of hostilities that has existed since 1948.
As Rosner notes:
A "high price"? That's an odd way to put it. Ending hostilities is not a price the Arabs will be paying - it's the reward they will be getting, that we will all be getting, if an Israeli-Arab agreement is achieved.
Although both Obama and the current Israeli leadership are eyeing the Saudi Plan, at this point it is certainly worth no more than the paper it is written on. If Obama is going to gamble on putting the Saudi plan in place as his first foreign accomplishment, he should keep in mind that he does not have the most to lose.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

Check out Memeorandum for lots more on Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya

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