(Vice President Richard Cheney, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and TWN guest blogger Clayton Swisher)
Clayton E. Swisher, a former Marine, is director of programs at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC and is author of The Truth About Camp David (New York: Nation Books, 2004).
If news that Saudi Arabia will attend the US-sponsored peace conference this September is correct, it is in fact a very big deal.
There will be no dusty conference chairs next to the Quartet and Israel’s usual Arab partners: Egypt and Jordan. Following US acceptance of the Arab League Peace Initiative this week during Secretary Rice’s visit to the region, first proffered by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 — it means the Initiative will also be the basis for discussion. That’s terrific news.
What’s more, the Saudis have denied the US and Israel the ability to allege — as they generally have since the collapse of US President Bill Clinton’s 2000 peace drive — that there is no Arab “partner for peace.”
Despite Arafat’s death in 2004, the US and Israel have relied on the “no partner” mantra, pointing to Palestinian internal dysfunction, factional violence between Fatah and Hamas, and the “lack of democratization” canard which was nothing more than a stall attributable to pro-Likud White House ideologues coupled with US preoccupation with Iraq and the so called “Global War on Terror.”
The US also excused its non-involvement because of Sharon’s pledge to quit Gaza, which in reality only bought Israel more time to increase its hold on the settlements of the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Seven years on the question now will be if there is an Israeli partner willing in word and deed to recognize the Palestinians right to exist on the land occupied since the 1967 war. With the US bogged down in Iraq, and with the Bush Administration’s hopes to confront the growing regional influence of Iran in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, there is an understanding that any US-Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran will hinge on progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ergo the recent US proposal to provide so-called moderate Arab states (including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) with a stunning military arms package.
The heretofore-diplomatic vacuum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means Palestinians are now dependent on larger power brokers more than ever before. That Saudi Arabia — with all its significance throughout not just the Arab world but Islamic world writ large — will attend this conference and give Israel the de facto recognition President Bush called for in his July 16th speech means the onus will be on the US and Israel to produce the big deliverable: Palestinian statehood and an end to Israeli occupation.
The Bush Administration has a terrible credit rating in the peace process, and one could envision regional distractions producing a US default to the tried-and-failed drawn out, incremental peace process in order to “kick the can” down the road for the next US President.
Which is why Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies should not stop there. They should bookend the Arab Peace Initiative with a timeline for the US and Israel. The Arabs should make clear that the Arab Peace Initiative and commitment to a two-state solution ends with the Bush Administration in January 2009.
The Arabs took a big risk by tabling the Arab Peace Initiative and signing on to the US-sponsored peace conference in terms of provoking the domestic Islamic radicalism that continues unabated, thanks in large part to prior US indifference towards Palestinians, the bungled Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, and the overall perception of US hostility toward Muslims.
This may in fact be a very long shot. But if the Saudis continue to deny the US and Israel excuses towards an end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, history will correctly judge where the majority of responsibility should rest.
— Clayton Swisher
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