Abdullah Out On A Limb

Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace proposal was born in Saudi Arabia but some allege that it was conceived in the US.  Revealed to a visiting American journalist during a private dinner with the Crown Prince, the plan centers on a “full normalization” of relations between Israel and all Arab countries, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967.  The proposal may get a boost when Abdullah meet President Bush in Texas later this spring, but its early survival depends first on its reception at the upcoming Arab summit in Beirut.

The suspicions which surround Abdullah’s peace initiative, and which dismiss it as stillborn, are founded in the belief that it was conceived to appease Saudi Arabia’s American critics and to divert them from focussing on Saudi domestic tensions.  Since September 11th, Saudi Arabia has felt intense pressure to explain (and explain away) its links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network because fifteen of the nineteen plane hijackers were Saudis (indeed, the majority of prisoners held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are said to be Saudi citizens) and Saudis are often viewed as a major source of al-Qaeda’s finances.  Moreover, it is alleged that the Saudi government has become preoccupied with appeasing America, despite the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, and Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine.

At the same time, Saudi public opinion has been inflamed, mostly because of their rulers’ apparent apathy toward the plight of the Palestinian people, particularly when contrasted with Osama bin Laden’s lethal propaganda.  Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Saudi leaders have felt pressed to accommodate public revulsion about the mistreatment of the Palestinians, but worry that doing so may even further jeopardize their now brittle relations with America.

Crown Prince Abdullah’s initiative provoked widespread surprise, not because the idea is so startlingly new, but because of its source and timing.  A proposal for “full normalization” with Israel coming from an Islamic regime that bases its legitimacy on the austere Islamic doctrines of the Wahhabi seems both peculiar and progressive.  But Saudi Arabia’s long-cultivated image of stability, benevolence, and mystical communal harmony has given way under the endless glare of the American press.  Its educational system, too, is increasingly portrayed as a breeding ground for hatred of the West.  Something had to give.