By Abdul Bari Atwan
When, in an article published by the New York Times yesterday, the American journalist Thomas Friedman calls on the reigning Saudi monarch, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, to welcome Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Riyadh and personally hand Netanyahu the ‘peace initiative’ he launched eight years ago when he was crown prince, we must put our hands on our hearts for two reasons;
Firstly, Friedman himself was the main instigator of the Saudi monarch launching the aforementioned peace initiative. Moreover, when he visited Riyadh as an adviser and guide he had a hand in both the articles of the initiative and the details of its content.
Secondly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has recently come under considerable pressure from the US administration to put throw its weight behind direct negotiations. President Obama had hoped that the Saudi monarch would participate in the ceremony held in Washington to inaugurate the talks, side by side with the Egyptian president and the King of Jordan. However, Saudi Arabia stopped short at only issuing a formal statement of support.
Freedman does not speak of his own accord and has strong links with decision makers in both Washington and Tel Aviv, while Arab leaders roll out the red carpet for him whenever he decides to visit. In justifying his appeal to the Saudi monarch he argues that “such a step would be enough to dispel Israeli fears, would have a psychological impact on them, end their isolation and rally them behind Netanyahu, who will be seen being welcomed by a leader of a Muslim country, will be most important” and would help Netanyahu in making a decision to extend the settlement freeze.
Or in other words, Friedman wants us to end Israeli isolation which has arisen as a consequence of its butchery of our rights; for us the victims to allay Israeli fears of us; for the most important Arab and Islamic state to normalise its relations with them and for Netanyahu, champion of the massacre on the Freedom Flotilla, to be welcomed in Riyadh and all for what? To extend the freeze on settlement construction in the occupied territories? What an incredible sacrifice for Netanyahu to make!
What is paradoxical is that this same Friedman used exactly the same excuse about eight years ago i.e. the need to reassure the Israelis and end their Isolation, to convince the same Saudi monarch to launch his famous peace initiative which was later adopted by the Beirut Summit held in March, 2002. Granted some important additions were made which provided for the right of return of Palestinian refugees in response to Syrian pressure and the insistence of Lebanese President Émile Lahoud; additions which did not meet Friedman’s approval.
The Israelis were pleased with the initiative because, for the first time in the history of the conflict, it offered them complete normalisation of relations with state as large as Saudi Arabia. However, in their usual manner they wanted more gratis Arab concessions and related to the initiative in a manner that could be described as extortion demanding that the Saudi monarch visit Jerusalem, following the example of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and explain his initiative to the Knesset in person.
The former US new conservative administration established these Israeli ‘provisos’ and demanded spontaneous initiatives from the Saudi monarch under the banner of active participation in the peace process, such as participation in the Annapolis Peace Conference in 2007 attended by Israeli officials and the launch of an interfaith dialogue which, alongside rabbis, did not exclude the Israeli president and elements of his government who got what they wanted, even though dialogue took place under the auspices of the United Nations.
It is painful that the dialogue that took place between religions produced the opposite of the desired result. The number of campaigns against Islam and Muslims in the West has increased; the cartoons insulting the Prophet have been reprinted on a large scale and we continue to follow news of the insistence of an American Christian Church in conducting a ceremony at its headquarters in Florida to burn 200 copies of the Holy Quran as well as the campaigns within the US congress and media against the construction of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near ‘Ground Zero’ where the 9/11 attacks occurred.
Americans, including Mr Friedman, are enamoured with the language of numbers and as such we should remind them all that since the Saudi monarch launched his peace initiative, more than 200,000 Jewish settlers have been re-settled in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank; 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip during the most recent aggression; 1,500 Lebanese people were killed at the end of 2006 in more Israeli aggression; there is continued excavation beneath the al-Aqsa mosque; plans are being prepared to build the Temple of Solomon on the ruins of the mosque and for the completion of the Apartheid wall.
We do not know whether the Saudi monarch will respond positively to Friedman’s suggestion as he did to his earlier one and initiate an invitation for Netanyahu to visit Riyadh. This is something that cannot be predicted and it would be prudent to wait and see what the next few days will bring ruling out the vision of Netanyahu in Riyadh anytime soon, or so we hope. The Saudi monarch probably responded to Friedman’s first suggestion out of a desire to mitigate any US attack on his country in the wake of 9/11 given that 15 Saudi citizens took part in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. However, Saudi-US relations have recently been at their best and there is no need to use the Palestinian issue to achieve political gains with either them or anyone else.
Blackmailing the Arabs under the pretext of dispelling Israelis’ fears has become blatant, degrading and hackneyed drama which disparages the Arab and Muslim intellect or particularly their officials; the majority of those in the Palestinian Authority and Arab capitals. Israel and its allies assume that Arabs are stupid and that it is easy to trick and laugh at them. The Arab League sent a delegation consisting of the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign minister to occupied Jerusalem to meet Israeli officials in ‘their capital’, occupied Jerusalem, to explain the Arab peace initiative at their request.
However, the explanation did not convince them, not because they are fundamentally determined not to be convinced, but because they wanted the Saudi foreign minister to form part of the delegation as normalisation with Egypt and Jordan is established while they were trying to secure more substantial normalisation.
Some Arab geniuses have come up with a new theory in response to this blackmail; the need to supersede Israeli officials and address Israeli public opinion directly demonstrating Arab good intention toward peace through the use of its media. The initiative has a substantial budget (we do not yet know the Arab source, but we do know who has benefitted from it) consisting of millions of dollars to be deployed in an intensive advertising campaign in Israeli newspapers including the publishing of the full text of the Arab Peace Initiative in Hebrew surrounded by the flags of more than 50 Islamic countries emphasising that in the event of its acceptance, normalisation of relations would not be with Arab countries alone, but with the whole Islamic world.
This campaign and the millions that have been spent on it, has already bared its fruit in terms of altering the views of Israelis resulting in an increase in the level of Israeli contempt for Arabs and Muslims as well as the number of votes received in the recent parliamentary elections by the extremist far-right parties; parties who believe in a Greater Israel, reject the establishment of a Palestinian state, advocate the expansion of the settlements, the complete Judaisation of occupied Jerusalem which they consider the eternal capital of the Israeli state and more importantly, the necessity for Arabs to recognise Israel as the Jewish State, or in other words, to recognise that there is no place for Christian or Muslim Arabs in Israel.
Presently, the same Arab stupidity is being repeated by the said same geniuses whereby the owners of the Geneva Initiative, which waives the right of return for Palestinian refugees, are initiating a new campaign entitled ‘We are partners’. The campaign aims to reassure Israelis of the Palestinian desire for peace through television programmes and posters of smiling Palestinians pictured in various parts of Israeli cities in a process that begs for further degradation.
It is not Israelis who need to dispel their fears of Arabs, but rather the complete opposite, for it is they who occupy our land; who use white phosphorous to kill our children; who massacre those who stand in solidarity with us against the imposition of an unjust Nazi siege on two million Palestinian Arab Muslim in the Gaza Strip. But what can we say to our leaders and their genius advisers?
It is shameful that we continue, as Arabs, to confirm our stupidity and unremitting susceptibility to US-backed Israeli blackmail. It is also shameful that we continue to repeat the same mistakes; to be bitten in the same hole by the same spider. Needless to point out that there is no better teacher than this.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.