Today, when the plane carrying U.S. President George W. Bush departs from glittering Dubai and lands in Riyadh, the substantive part of his visit to the Middle East will commence. If there is one place where discussion will get to the point without too much vision, dreams and fanfare - it's Riyadh. If there is a capital where things that are agreed to are also carried out - it's Riyadh.
Riyadh is a familial place where the Bush family, both father and son, has personal interests, and where they speak in terms that are clear to everyone: like money, property, investments and also security. If a solution can be found to the Palestinian problem, the Iraqi conundrum, the crisis in Lebanon and the relations with Iran - it will begin and end in this place. This is the country that drew pan-Arab hegemony to it; it is the one that dictates the basic rules, the red lines and the policies of compromise of the states in the Middle East. From a country that trudged along behind the Arab consensus, which is determined for the most part in Cairo and sometimes in Damascus, Saudi Arabia has been transformed into the initiator of policy.
It is toward Saudi Arabia that the Egyptian intellectual and researcher, Mamoun Fandy, directed his incisive article: "The Cards are in the Hands of the Arabs." The article appeared in the daily Asharq Al-Awsat, which is controlled by a Saudi prince who rules a large media empire in the Middle East.
If the ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States are so close and warm, why are the Arabs unable to take advantage of this to further their interests, Fandy asks. Why does Israel succeed in promoting its narrative, arguing that it is alone in its desire for peace, while the Arabs want war? Why is it that when Israel declares that it receives no strategic benefits from its peace with the Arabs (Egypt and Jordan), the West pays close attention to its claims? And most importantly, how can the Arabs alter this trend and steer Western public opinion in their favor?
To the question of "what if the Arab leaders whom Bush will meet decide to make quick arrangements now to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with them" - Fandy answers: "This dramatic move could change public opinion in the West, the United States and Israel about the seriousness of the Arabs regarding peace, and could change the entire dialogue."
Fandy calls on Saudi Arabia to unify the Palestinian ranks and heal the divide between Hamas and Fatah. He is also saying that the Arab states should coordinate their positions with Riyadh in all other issues pertaining to the Middle East. This is the kind of coordination that is vital in order to deal seriously with the Israeli position.
"Perhaps the time has come for the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, to take a serious view of Israel's strategic fears. The Israeli question about the nature of the Palestinian state is logical and legitimate. Will this state add to stability or instability in the region?" Fandy asks.
In his view, such a new Arab position is an available, winning card, and is preferable to "the old Arab way of wasting time at meetings, talking about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and complaining about the 'double standards' [of the Americans]." Fandy concludes by stating that "the cards are in the hands of the Arabs today. Will they exploit them well?"
Of course there are many Arab circles who consider Fandy's proposals treasonous, and he knows this. There are those who have blamed him for being "too American." But when an influential Saudi newspaper, which knows the rules of what is permitted and banned from publication in the kingdom, publishes such an article on the eve of Bush's visit - it is worthwhile to take it seriously.
No one knows what the message coming from Riyadh will be, if there is one at all. But at the very least, Israeli supporters of peace, those who attack the government for destroying the negotiations, who justifiably ridicule the empty words of the prime minister concerning the vision for peace, and who count the days of the government in the hope that the alternative will be more encouraging - these supporters need to rally to Fandy's call and his criticism of the Arabs. Because those favoring peace sorely need an Arab partner, a king or a president, who will make the desired dramatic move. One could ask them to consider another question in this regard: How is it that the Arab states have still not recognized the existence of Israeli supporters of peace? Where is their Arab partner?
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