Barak urges kiss of life for moribund Saudi 2002 peace plan
Defense minister Ehud Barak has proposed in coalition talks with Kadima leader, foreign minister Tzipi Livni, that serious consideration be given to the 2002 Saudi plan which offered pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured during the 1967 war: the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Golan.
“There is definitely room to introduce a comprehensive Israeli plan to counter the Saudi plan,” after individual negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians proved unproductive, said Barak, who heads the Labor party, to Israel Army radio Sunday.
Livni refuses to comment on her talks with Barak.
After failing to form a government in her first round of coalition talks, the Kadima leader must ask the president for another 14 days’ grace from Monday or face the prospect of a snap election.
The Labor leader said in his interview that “moderate Arab leaders” shared an interest in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, limiting Hizballah’s influence in Lebanon and bringing the Palestinian Hamas under control in the Gaza Strip. He also reproved the demonstrators protesting the government’s failure to secure the release of Gilead Shalit in two-and-a-half years, saying their protest only raised Hamas’ price for the captive soldier’s freedom.
These comments, debkafile‘s Middle East sources stress, show how completely the defense minister is out of touch with the emerging dynamic of the contemporary Middle East. The Saudi peace plan is a dead letter for the Arab world, overtaken by tempestuous change. Gone are the days when the Saudis and Egypt, the so-called moderate Arab nations, set the pace in the Middle East, although Israelis in power still cling to them as key trendsetters.
Today, the Saudis are fighting to dislodge Lebanon’s takeover by Iran and Syria and Shiite expansion through the Sunni Arab world.
Many observers view the Syrian troop concentrations poised on the Lebanese border, backed by Iran and Hizballah, against the Saudi-backed and armed Islamic militias led by Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri in North Lebanon, as the first round in an epic Saudi-Iranian confrontation. Some observers see the coming of Lebanon War No. 2 two years after Israel failed to defeat the Hizballah in 2006. This one, pitting Sunni Muslims against Shiite powers, already dominates the region’s political and military dynamic, relegating the Saudi peace plan to an irrelevant past.
Much water has run under Middle East bridges since 2000 when Barak as prime minister engineered Israel’s pullout from its south Lebanese security zone, and 2005, when his successor Ariel Sharon ordered Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, making way for Hamas to move in. This move was actively supported by Livni. Summer 2006 saw Ehud Olmert’s botched management of the Lebanon War followed by his failure to arrest Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb.
The forces dominating regional affairs today are no longer “moderates” but a radical coalition of Iran, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami. Their pre-eminence makes it pointless for the defense minister to try to administer the kiss of death to the Saudi peace plan as a strategic guideline for a potential government he may share with Tzipi Livni.