Saudis reject Obama’s plan for ties with Israel: Top urgency is Iran threat

Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal’s rejection of the Obama administration’s Middle East approach was a lot more comprehensive than a blunt refusal to improve relations with Israel to help restart peace talks. debkafile‘s Washington sources report that in closed-door talks with US leaders, including secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Saudi prince urged the US to get off their backs on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and deal more seriously and effectively with top-urgency action for stopping Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.
After those talks, Saud said his government would not consider steps suggested by the Obama administration until Israel accepted Arab demands “to withdraw from all occupied Palestinian territories.”
With Clinton looking on at a joint State Department news conference Friday, July 31, the Saudi foreign minister dismissed Obama principles one by one: “Temporary security and confidence building measures will also not bring peace,” he maintained and rejected “incrementalism and a step-by-step approach.”
What is required, he said is “a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final-status issues, including the future Palestinian state, control of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees, water and security.”
Our Gulf sources note that the Saudi foreign minister thus reaffirmed in public the rejection of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies which he encountered when he met King Abdullah in Riyadh on June 3.
This week, the Saudis shot into action to elicit more rejections from the seven Arab rulers who received personal letters from the US president asking for their cooperation in the peace effort by normalizing gestures towards Israel.
debkafile‘s political sources comment that by stipulating Israel’s surrender on all its core issues with the Palestinians before negotiations even begin the Saudis render those negotiations superfluous.
It means that Israel will only be asked to arrange for the technicalities and timelines for its predetermined pullback to the pre-1967 (or 1949) lines, its handover of Jerusalem to Arab control, the distribution and administration of regional water resources and the return of the refugees and their descendants to the homes they forfeited on account of the 1948 Arab war against the new Israeli state.
Two motives account for this Saudi all-or-nothing dictatorial position on Middle East peace, debkafile‘ s analysts reports:
1. Riyadh is loath to waste effort on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or any other elements of the Obama program such as detente with Syria when far more urgent business tops the royal agenda: The Saudis object strongly to the further entrenchment of the Shiite-ruled government in Baghdad and the restoration of Syrian influence in Beirut – both under US auspices. Washington is also seen to be making overtures towards Hizballah which can only strengthen the hand of the Lebanese Shiite extremists in the Lebanese government coalition.
Furthermore, they see the bitter rift between the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip and the Fatah faction governing the West Bank as irreconcilable and therefore an insurmountable barrier to Middle East peacemaking.
2. The Saudis maintain that Obama and his Middle East envoy George Mitchell have been sidetracked by minor regional issues from dealing with the primary concern of the Gulf and Middle East region, the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Until that cloud is lifted, they say, no other initiatives have a chance. Paradoxically, this reading of the Middle East impasse is shared by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak.
Saudi al Faisal’s angry snub of the Obama administration’s Middle East plans carries a clear message: First tackle the perils besetting us from the east and the north (Iraq and Iran) before you badger us about the Israelis and Palestinians.

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