Should we accept US ‘Mideast Peace Initiative’?

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WHEN a Palestinian asked me in an international conference where I came from, I announced: I am a Palestinian from Saudi Arabia. I explained that Palestine and Jerusalem are weaved into our genes.” I went on to give a presentation about the Saudi stand on the new US drive to kick off Arab-Israeli peace process.

I told my audience: In his meeting with US President Franklin Roosevelt, 1945, King Abdulaziz was asked, “Why do you object to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine? Surely you sympathize with their suffering at the hands of the Nazis,” asked Roosevelt. Ibn Saud answered, “Who subjected the Jews to such injustice? We treated them well in Palestine and other Arab countries. If it is justice you are seeking, you should give them a piece of Germany.”

It didn’t take long to convince Roosevelt to promise King Abdulaziz that America will never take a decision on this issue without consulting Saudi Arabia. On his return, he told Congress that now he understood the Palestinian issue better and sent the King of Arabia an official letter to affirm his promise. That was a stand the next President Harry Truman did not abide by. America recognized the Jewish state soon after it was announced, in 1948, without consulting Arabs.

When US Secretary of Sate Henry Kissinger met with King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz to present his “step by step” peace initiative, and discus Saudi-led Arab oil embargo against countries supporting Israel, he quipped: Your majesty, my plane needs gas, would you grant my wish to refill it? The king replied: I am an old man, and I wish to pray in liberated Al-Aqsa Mosque, would America grant my wish?

Ten years later, King Fahad Bin Abdulaziz presented his peace initiative to the Arab Summit, in Fez, Morocco, 1982. King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz presented an updated version to the Arab Summit in Beirut, 2002. Arabs and Palestinians approved the initiative, but the Israelis chose to ignore it. Instead, the Sharon government escalated their aggression against Palestinians and put a siege on their government and leader, Yasser Arafat, till his death.

Today, we hear about a new US initiative, based on an Israeli strategy, called “out-in.” The premise is instead of trying to get Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate peace, the US would lead Arab-Israeli dialogue to find a solution. According to the plan, leading Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar, would sit with Israel to find ways to solve the issues. In the meanwhile, they would discuss the Iranian threat, and coordinate efforts to confront it.

My answer to whether the Saudi government would accept such a strategy was an absolute no. We have invested a huge political capital to get 22 Arab and 57 Muslim governments to agree on the Arab Peace Initiative (API). It is still on the table against calls to withdraw it. According to the initiative, tough questions, like refugee return and Jerusalem status were left to negotiations. So were the final borders, leaving space for land exchange. Normalization is already guaranteed once resolution is achieved. If Israel is serious about peace, it should accept API.

I also told them that no just peace can be achieved without two conditions: A balance of power and a unified stand. We need the world community and Israeli peace movement to even the play-field. And we, Arabs and Palestinians, must be unified and speak in one voice.

A Moroccan asked: But what if Israel refused? Would Saudi Arabia accept to join other Middle Eastern players and negotiate directly with her?

I relayed what King Faisal said to his consultants when they argued that Israel won’t accept peace on just terms and the superpowers of the world are supporting her, so we need to be flexible since we don’t have an option. His answer was, “We could always say no. No one can take that power from us. Future generations may have better options, but if we accept an unjust deal now, we deny them their choice.”

Today, Saudi Arabia, the Arab and Muslim leader, will still say no to any option not accepted by Arabs and Muslims. There is no way around the API no matter how much pressure Israel’s friends exert on us. For just, true and lasting peace with Israel, there is only Plan A.

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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