Omaya's Internet cartoon shows the Saudi initiative as a man walking on tall stilts over the blood-soaked land of Palestine. The caption says: "The Arabs' sublime plan," meaning that Arab leaders will invent anything, as long as they don't have to touch the real problem and get their feet dirty with Palestinian blood.
The editor of Al Quds al Araby, which comes out in London, doesn't mince his words when he describes the Saudi initiative: "Our hope is that Arab leaders keep their initiatives to themselves and let the heroes of the intifada face their destiny on their own. That is more respectful of the intifada. Those among them who want to normalize relations with Israel should do it directly, without fake trickery: And those who are seeking American money should do so without behaving like a pimp at the expense of that small nation, the Palestinians, who are fighting in the name of the entire Arab nation."
After the euphoria that accompanied the release of the Saudi plan, it is beginning to draw large Arab stones from every direction. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who meets today with President George W. Bush in Washington, has struck the pose of someone who steps back from a painting to see it better, even though he was one of the initiative's original creators. Bashar Assad went all the way to Saudi Arabia - not to hear more details about the plan, which he knows well, but to lobby the Saudis not to raise it. In Lebanon there are already vehement voices of opposition, despite the initial praise from Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. And it now appears that by the time the Arab summit meets in Beirut at the end of the month, the two unifying issues will be the Palestinian issue, and how to talk about the Saudi plan without approving it.
The more refined objectors to the plan say "there's nothing new in it," since the Arab states already decided at their 1996 Cairo summit on a strategic choice for peace, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. From that perspective, which is daily winning more supporters, the Saudi initiative is at most a reiteration of a previous position, so there's no need to fear it.
But are those who initially supported the plan now afraid that it goes too far under current conditions? That it could damage the united Arab position? That's doubtful, because along with the voices of opposition there is a lot of satisfaction about the "trick" that depicts Israel as the anti-peace rejectionist. A full withdrawal from the territories during Ariel Sharon's term as prime minister seems so far removed from reality that there is no fear it could come true, so the initiative will just chalk up some positive points for the Arabs in the U.S.
But who exactly is going to write up those points when the U.S. is keeping an arm's length from the conflict, Bush doesn't sound enthusiastic, Sharon and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are competing over who is dealing with more dangerous terrorists, and the State Department is peering at the initiative like a car buyer who's just looking, or at most wants to know if the Saudis left parking spaces for the two cripples, Tenet and Mitchell. The U.S. certainly does not regard the initiative as an opportunity to convene an international conference, for example, along the lines of Madrid.
Therefore, the opposition to the plan in the Arab world is ultimately derived from concern that creating a common Arab stance now, could harm Arab negotiating positions when faced by a more accommodating Israeli government in the future.
The attacks on the plan are accompanied by a growing number of voices that warn against falling into the trap of the Saudi "magic formula," and prefer to grasp at the last remaining straw - Israeli society itself. Thus, a leading Egyptian commentator, Rajoub al-Bana, wrote this week in Al Ahram about "wise Israelis, the voices the Arab world should listen to." He quotes extensively from David Grossman's interview in Yedioth Aharonoth and his recent article in Ha'aretz, and from Yehudith Hendel and Victor Shem Tov, explaining to his readers that these are among the enlightened Israeli voices, which should not be ignored.
"They might not influence the current political decisions, and they are in the minority, but they exist ... we must listen to these voices because they will ultimately be victorious over the madness of force," he writes. Thus, in, of all places, Egypt, they're counting on the Israeli peace movement. That's how confusing magic formulas - whether from Saudi Arabia or Israel - can be.
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