Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah “Idea” Goes into Surprising Orbit

Probably no one was more surprised than Saudi Arabia’s virtual ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, by the furor – including Israel president Moshe Katsav’s offer to fly to Riyadh – raised by a single sentence he uttered in an interview to the New York Times columnist Thomas L, Friedman, after it was published February 18: “…this is exactly the idea I had in mind – full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accordance with UN resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalization of relations. I have drafted a speech along those lines [for the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut on March 28].”
The Saudi ruler did not pronounce the word peace, mention a halt in the terror and violence in return for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, or expand on his “idea” in any organized follow-up in a non-media forum. Given those omissions, Abdullah certainly did not see himself as having put forward a formal peace initiative. What he was after, according to debkafile‘s Middle East sources, was a brush to give his image in America and Washington a badly needed shine and offset his murky post September 11 record. He selected one of his harshest critics in the US media.
Abdullah knows quite well that he has come out of the first stage of the Bush administration’s war on terror as its leading opponent. His credentials as an American ally began dipping in the 1990s, when he effectively blocked off every bid by US investigators to explore al Qaeda’s workings and supporters in the kingdom. Then, when most of the suicides who struck the WorldTradeCenter in New York and the Pentagon in Washington proved to be Saudi citizens, Abdullah kept this fact out of the domestic press and tried to gloss it over.
Abdullah stood against the US campaign against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which Riyadh supported, and denied US forces the use of the Prince Sultan air base east of Riyadh. He covertly financed the air corridor that lifted al Qaeda survivors of the Afghan war, many of them Saudi nationals, to safety in the Persian Gulf and Middle East regions, including south Lebanon. Through his intelligence agencies and Muslim charities, the crown prince put up Saudi funds for the Iranian arms cargo, loaded aboard the Karine-A smuggling freighter later intercepted by Israeli on the Red Sea, before it could reach its Palestinian destination.
Abdullah is the first Arab ruler to confront president Bush’s “axis of evil” with a tripartite pact made up of Saudi Arabia and two elements of that axis – Iraq and Iran – with whom he is synchronizing certain of his political, military and economic strategies.
And finally, Abdullah never stop funneling oil funds to the Palestinian Islamic extremist Hamas listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization. These moneys support Hamas’s impressive arsenal and reservoir of suicide killers.
Four days after the Friedman article appeared, he New York Times ran a follow-up by Henry Siegman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who quoted Saudi officials as saying that …”normalization of relations with Israel does not preclude Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall in the Old City and over Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.”
Those same sources also indicated that Saudi Arabia would not object to the transfer of small areas of the West to Israeli in return for “qualitatively and quantitatively comparable territory to be transferred by Israel to the Palestinians.” The proviso was that “such an exchange be the result of a freely negotiated compromise.”
At this point, administration officials decided to find out if Abdullah was in earnest or just working up a positive spin. William Burns, assistant secretary of state for the Near East, went to Riyadh to investigate, after which, on Sunday, February 24, secretary of state Colin Powell telephoned the Crown Prince. Nothing was published after either conversation.
debkafile‘s Washington and Middle East sources report that the impression they gained was unclear. The prince did not back away from his statement to Friedman, but on the other hand he said he was not sure he would present it to the Arab summit. Asked to endorse the “Saudi officials'” additions to Siegman, he denied knowing anything about them.
Turning his back on the episode, Powell therefore went back to stressing that the first essential step in the Middle East conflict must be a halt in the violence, before any political steps could be broached. The Abdullah statement was thus relegated to a non-operative sideline.
Powell must also have been aware of the thumbs down coming from the Palestinian mainstream group. The central committee of Arafat’s Fatah movement called Abdullah’s initiative a new stab in the back for “the Palestinian struggle and its legitimate rights”. The statement it issued asks the Saudis if they were willing to bargain and give up their own rights in border disputes with brotherly Arab states. Why then do they propose initiatives for giving up “territories occupied since 1948, so serving Zionist and American schemes” and ignoring the right of return of expelled Palestinian refugees.
Arafat’s Fatah accuses the Saudis of trying to deflect American threats from certain Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, at the expense of the Palestinian people.
Summing up, the Americans do not take the Abdullah “initiative’ seriously; the Palestinians are dead against it, and even the crown prince himself did not meant it for real. In any case, the Saudis are far from being out of the woods in Washington. Monday, February 25, the Washington Times quoted US intelligence officials as reporting that computers seized last year by NATO troops from Saudi aid organizations in Sarajevo showed photos of past terrorist targets and a Washington street map pinpointing government buildings.
Yet in Jerusalem the Abdullah throwaway phrase has been seized on as a bright ray of hope. Israeli president Katsav has invited himself to Riyadh, foreign minister Shimon Peres is off to Paris to discuss the “exciting new development” with President Jacques Chirac
and his colleagues in Labor and opposition suggest Abdullah’s non-peace plan provides a reason for freeing Arafat from his continued confinement in Ramallah.

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