Monday, January 26, 2009

Talking Turki

In an op/ed column in last Friday's Financial Times, Turki al-Faisal (photo above), former Saudi intelligence director and ambassador to the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland, warns of jihad if the Obama Administration doesn't support the Saudi proposed solution to the Mideast conflict:

Mr Obama should strongly promote the Abdullah peace initiative, which calls on Israel to pursue the course laid out in various international resolutions and laws: to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to UN resolution 194; and to recognise the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.

Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over "this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children" in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom's primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed.

So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. As the world laments once again the suffering of the Palestinians, people of conscience from every corner of the world are clamouring for action. Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel.

One problem with the Abdullah peace initiative seems to be that Israel already is, de facto, at peace with Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries. Mr. al-Faisal's threats of jihad notwithstanding, I doubt Israelis lay awake at night worrying about waves of Saudi jihadis infiltrating Israel's borders1. What the Israelis probably do worry about are rocket attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah, and the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Since the Abdullah initiative doesn't include Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran, it's not apparent how it would address those Israeli concerns. It's true that there would be other benefits to Israel from a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, e.g., trade and tourism. But the two Arab countries with which Israel already has peace treaties, Egypt and Jordan, aren't major trade partners of Israel, according to the CIA World Factbook.

It's also not readily apparent how the Arab states would benefit from a peace treaty with Israel, or, for that matter, from peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As an article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine ("Revolution, Facebook Style"):

From Amman to Riyadh, governments have long viewed protests against Israel as a useful safety valve to allow citizens to let off steam without addressing grievances closer to home.

Wouldn't a peace treaty remove that safety valve?

The photo above of Turki al-Faisal comes from BYU's website.

1Significant numbers of Saudi jihadis have, in fact, infiltrated Iraq's borders in the past few years, but Iraq shares a large land border with Saudi Arabia.


JK said...

It will be interesting to see how the Obama Admin handles the Israeli conflict. On one hand you have Brzezinski, Carter and pre-front-runner Obama express opinions that are more favorable to the Palestinians - Of course Carter had his book, and Brzezinksi had kind words for Walt and Mearsheimer's, and also humorously 'sonned' Joe Scarborough on MSNBC. Poor Mika. On the other hand Obama did plenty of sucking up to the Jewish vote in the run up to the election and has devout zionists in his administration including chief of staff. Will be tuning in to see how this plays out. Probably not much will happen either way and we'll still get a stalemate.

DaveinHackensack said...

There's also the interesting selection of envoys, Dennis Ross and George Mitchell, but if Obama is smart, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will be far down on his to-do list. There are much more important conflicts to expend diplomatic energy on, for starters, the India-Pakistan conflict. To the extent that Pakistani insecurity about India has led to its ISI to foment radical Islam and jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it's probably necessary to lower the temperature on the India-Pakistan conflict in order to get some sort of half-decent resolution to Afghanistan-Pakistan.