by Zafar Bangash (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 1, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1422)
The middle of last month saw yet another upsurge in the intensity of the violence in Palestine. From February 14 to February 20 at least 60 people were killed, two-thirds of them Palestinians. At the same time, the West found yet another approach to trying to disarm the Palestinians politically, with a new peace proposal from Saudi crown prince Abdullah.
Among the Palestinian military operations were two daring attacks on the Israeli army. On February 14 a Merkava battle-tank, pride of the Israeli army, was blown up in Ghazzah, killing three Israeli soldiers; this was followed on February 19 by a attack on an Israeli checkpoint in Ramallah in which six Israeli soldiers were killed in a commando-style operation. The Palestinian mujahideen were able to get away after completing their mission. In between there were other operations against the zionists, as well as the usual Israeli attacks from the ground, air and sea on Palestinian civilians.
Such was the Israeli army’s anger at the attacks, and the murderous ferocity of its response against Palestinians, that Israeli priome minister Ariel Sharon was forced to issue a statement on February 24 calling for the military to show restraint.
Now that the intifada is beginning to give the zionist occupiers of Palestine a dose of their own medicine, however, Saudi crown prince Abdullah has come up with a proposal to recognise Israel. The idea itself is not new; the Saudis have been anxious for a long time to recognise the zionist state. As early as 1981 Fahd (then crown prince and now king) made a similar announcement, which came to be called the Faas (Fez) declaration, at an earlier Arab League summit; it was the zionists who rejected it out of hand. Abdullah’s reiteration of the proposal at this time, however, is making many observers wonder. He made the remark in an ‘off the record’ conversation with Thomas Friedman, the New York Timescolumnist who has been in the kingdom to report on developments since September 11. On Friedman’s urging Abdullah agreed to go public and the proposal was published in the New York Times on February 17.
Friedman was not only invited to the kingdom by the Saudi ambassador to Washington, but also given the opportunity to dine in Riyadh with crown prince Abdullah, the de facto king (Fahd is incapacitated by old age and stroke). In his column on February 17, Friedman reminded readers of what he had proposed earlier: “that the 22 members of the Arab League ... make a simple, clear-cut proposal to Israel to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse: in return for a total withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967, lines, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, the 22 members of the Arab League would offer Israel full diplomatic relations, normalized trade and security guarantees. Full withdrawal, in accord with UN Resolution 242, for full peace between Israel and the entire Arab world.”
Using the dinner opportunity he proposed this to Abdullah, who pounced on it, saying he had already drafted a speech along these lines but had hesitated to deliver it because of the escalation of violence in Palestine. “My thinking was to deliver it before the Arab summit and try to mobilize the entire Arab world behind it. The speech is written, and it is in my desk. But I changed my mind about delivering it when [the Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon took the violence, and the oppression, to an unprecedented level,” said Abdullah. Friedman conceded that he knew other Arab officials regimes — of Jordan, Morocco and the Arab League — had been talking about this idea in private but had not dared to broach it publicly until one of the “big boys” — Saudi Arabia or Egypt — took the lead.
The timing of Abdullah’s offer and Friedman’s earlier proposal need a closer look. Here is how events probably occurred. Bandar, almost certainly privy to Abdullah’s speech (he may even have helped draft it) may well have primed Friedman to make the proposal in his column in early February. Then he facilitated Friedman’s trip to Riyadh and also arranged for his dinner with the crown prince. The big question is what Bandar gets out of it. A great deal, if one considers his close links with the zionists and how he is positioning himself to become king when the present elderly members of Aal-e Saud pass away. He knows that America can influence or determine the kingdom’s succession, and with the zionist lobby in Washington on his side he can be assured of complete support. Likewise Abdullah was imposed on Jordan by sidelining crown prince Hasan when king Husain was about to die. The cancer-stricken Husain was rushed back to Jordan from a clinic in Minnesota to ensure Abdullah’s succession.
Bandar has also cultivated close links with Martin Indyk, an Australian-born zionist Jew, whose visit to Riyadh in 1990 was arranged by none other than Bandar. Indyk was presented as a “Middle East expert” when he was in fact executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a thinktank that fronts for the zionist lobby. The Washington Institute was set up and is funded by the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). There is a close relationship between the Institute, AIPAC and the US state department. Indyk had been imported from Australia in the early eighties to work for AIPAC. From the lobby he moved to set up the Institute, which works as a revolving door for top slots in the state department. The day Bill Clinton was sworn in as president in January 1993, Indyk’s citizenship was rushed through to enable him to serve on the US National Security Council. Later he was transferred as US ambassador to Israel. When Indyk left for Tel Aviv Bandar allegedly remarked that he felt like an orphan.
Quite aside from the fact that Abdullah has no authority to speak for the Palestinians, we must look at the reasons behind his offer to accept the occupation of most of Palestine (78 percent) by the zionists. The second intifada has stirred up the Palestinian people to such an extent that even Yasser Arafat’s Fatah is no longer able or willing to contain the wrath of the people. The increasingly bold operations of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Brigades, as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, against the zionists have sent shivers down the spine of every Arab ruler. The Arab world is seething with anger at Israeli brutalities and the impotence of the Arab rulers. This has been compounded by the manner in which the US has pulverised Afghanistan and how it is now brutalising the prisoners taken from there to Guantanamo Bay. The Arab rulers know that if the intifada goes on, it will create an explosive situation in their own countries.
While the zionists have blockaded Arafat in his West Bank compound in Ramallah, the intifada has also had a traumatic effect on Israel, both army and society. More than 1,000 army reservists have openly refused to serve in the West Bank and Ghazzah. It is not because they care for Palestinian lives, of course; as in Lebanon, the zionists are afraid of dying. The movement to withdraw from the West Bank and Ghazzah is growing because of the sacrifices of the Palestinian youths, spearheaded by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Now even secular Palestinian groups have adopted the martyrdom-seeking methods of the Islamic movement. Since the second intifada began in September 2000, more than a million Israelis have fled the country; the Israeli economy has been equally hard hit, losing more than US$3 billion during this period. These are blows the zionists can ill afford.
In other words, while the suffering of the Palestinian people is undoubtedly immense, the zionists are also being hurt. At this rate of attrition a time will come when there will be few or no Israelis willing to serve in the army. Stung by recent reverses, military commanders have demanded a “free hand” to deal even more harshly with the intifada. Sharon has given them permission to use whatever force is “necessary”, but after a certain point force becomes counterproductive.
The Palestinians’ daring operations are worrying not only the zionists but also the Arab rulers. They are positioning themselves for the Arab League summit (March 27-28 in Beirut), in which they plan to “beg” the US, in the words of the Amir of Qatar, to use whatever influence it can with the Israelis.