The town square is full of joy. A divine voice has been heard heralding the news that soon his lordship from Riyadh will be arriving for a visit; maybe not a real visit, but there most certainly will be a meeting. Alright, maybe not a private meeting with the head of the shtetl, but certainly he will pass by and wave hello from his carriage. Maybe he won't wave hello, but he'll certainly agree to be photographed, something to put on the bookcase in a nice cardboard frame - to make the neighbors jealous.
Saudi Arabia has become the fantasy of Israeli policymakers. After Jordan and Egypt are "in our pocket," their foreign ministers, who visited Israel on Wednesday, can forget about new conciliatory gestures. Israel, please note, is in the midst of a new courtship season: It's either Saudi Arabia or nothing. If you bring Saudi Arabia, you'll get territories, illegal outposts, prisoner releases, withdrawal to the '67 lines, an arrangement for the refugees, and a villa and a car as well. Anyone who wants Israel to accept the Saudi peace initiative will be so kind as to first bring Saudi Arabia.
It is difficult to understand why Saudi Arabia has become such a desirable objective. Certainly not because it is controlled by a corrupt family of princes, or because part of radical Islam grew in its bosom. Nor is the model of human and civic rights in the country exactly the heart's desire of every peace-loving liberal. Maybe the reason is that Saudi Arabia disproves the claim that only democracies don't fight one another - but Egypt already disproved this through nearly 30 years of peace with Israel, and the same is true of Jordan.
Apparently the real reason is related to the outmoded idea that if Saudi King Abdullah will agree to meet with the president or prime minister of Israel, then all the Arab leaders will march en masse in the direction of Jerusalem, and Israel will then really become an inseparable part of the Middle East.
But Saudi Arabia is not exactly at the forefront of the Arab world. It did not succeed in preventing the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, or the first and second Iraqi wars. It is not succeeding in bringing about a political compromise in Lebanon, and friendship is not exactly the term to describe its relations with Syria. It is in a conflict with Qatar; is making out, not in secret, with Iran; is unable to influence events in Iraq, and even its worthwhile efforts to make peace among the Palestinians have been a resounding failure. The Mecca summit left more holes than solutions.
And yet Saudi Arabia chalked up a particularly important achievement, when without consulting any Arab leader it presented its peace initiative and turned it into the Arab initiative. By doing so, it brought about a new consensus in the Middle East. Not simply a dialectical change, this is a new basis of understandings for ending the Israeli-Arab conflict. While there are understandings and an Arab agreement, we would do well to remember that Saudi Arabia is not responsible for the individual behavior of every Arab country toward Israel.
And now, with near genius, Israel is succeeding in convincing everyone that the Saudi initiative, which is full of demands of Israel, must be implemented by Saudi Arabia rather than by Israel. As though Saudi Arabia has to withdraw from the territories and deal with the right of return or peace with the Palestinians. As though Saudi Arabia has to make peace with Syria or remove the settlements.
Those who are disseminating the Saudi dream should pinch themselves: Saudi Arabia is neither the prize nor the threat. When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrive in Israel this week, we should once again ask them why they are searching in the wrong place for Israel's sake. Why aren't they promoting negotiations with Syria; how will they turn President George W. Bush's international summit into a show with content and not only fireworks, and are they convinced that the "agreement of principles" being proposed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is not just another piece of paper that fell out of the loose-leaf binder of Oslo Accord drafts? These are the real issues the Olmert government has to address. It would be nice if an important Saudi Arabian visited Israel and had his picture taken here - but no Qassam rocket will pause in mid-air for that reason.
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