Saudi Eyes on Gaza – in the aftermath of Israel’s massacre

Despite Obama’s statement that Gaza borders should be opened for aid and commerce, Israel still refuses to open border crossings for goods other than aid, thus continuing its strangulation and collective punishment of the Gazan people and preventing reconstruction of the devastated strip.

While tens of thousands of Gazans remain homeless, destitute and ill from Israel’s sociopathic aggression, Prince Turki al Faisal writes an article in the Financial Times making it clear in no uncertain terms that the US must stop footsying with the murderous, land-thieving Zionist enterprise or risk its alliance with Saudia. There is no mention of the oil weapon, yet that is the last thing the US needs to be wielded while it is in the throes of recession.

In my decades as a public servant, I have strongly promoted the Arab-Israeli peace process. During recent months, I argued that the peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia could be implemented under an Obama administration if the Israelis and Palestinians both accepted difficult compromises. I told my audiences this was worth the energies of the incoming administration for, as the late Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit said: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.”

But after Israel launched its bloody attack on Gaza, these pleas for optimism and co-operation now seem a distant memory. In the past weeks, not only have the Israeli Defence Forces murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians, but they have come close to killing the prospect of peace itself. Unless the new US administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told the UN Security Council that if there was no just settlement, “we will turn our backs on you”. King Abdullah spoke for the entire Arab and Muslim world when he said at the Arab summit in Kuwait that although the Arab peace initiative was on the table, it would not remain there for long. Much of the world shares these sentiments and any Arab government that negotiated with the Israelis today would be rightly condemned by its citizens. Two of the four Arab countries that have formal ties to Israel – Qatar and Mauritania – have suspended all relations and Jordan has recalled its ambassador.

America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region – from the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib – but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia – it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

The incoming US administration will be inheriting a “basket full of snakes” in the region, but there are things that can be done to help calm them down. First, President Barack Obama must address the disaster in Gaza and its causes. Inevitably, he will condemn Hamas’s firing of rockets at Israel.

When he does that, he should also condemn Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians and support a UN resolution to that effect; forcefully condemn the Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians; declare America’s intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella for countries that sign up and sanctions for those that do not; call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shab’ah Farms in Lebanon; encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace; and support a UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s territorial integrity.

Mr Obama should strongly promote the Abdullah peace initiative, which calls on Israel to pursue the course laid out in various international resolutions and laws: to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognise the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.

Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over “this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children” in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom’s primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region.

So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. When Israel deliberately kills Palestinians, appropriates their lands, destroys their homes, uproots their farms and imposes an inhuman blockade on them; and as the world laments once again the suffering of the Palestinians, people of conscience from every corner of the world are clamouring for action. Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel. Today, every Saudi is a Gazan, and we remember well the words of our late King Faisal: “I hope you will forgive my outpouring of emotions, but when I think that our Holy Mosque in Jerusalem is being invaded and desecrated, I ask God that if I am unable to undertake Holy Jihad, then I should not live a moment more.”

Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.

This brings to mind an ironic mirroring of the neocon mantra “Iraq is the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot, Egypt the prize” where Israel becomes the tactical pivot and Palestine the prize.

Enduring America muses on Obama’s phone calls with the Saudi regime:

So the first message in Obama’s call was not to get active Saudi participation in the naval blockade of Gaza but assurances that Riyadh would not try to undermine it by moving cash and material to Palestinian groups in the area. The second message, however, is more important and hard to decipher:

Do those US-Saudi ties mean that Obama will accept Saudi ideas for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, for example, a revival of the 2002 Mecca proposals that the Bush Administration flagrantly rebuffed? Or is Washington expecting the Saudis to follow the lead of a yet-seen approach that will be unveiled in the visit of George Mitchell to the region?

Turki’s appeal is incongruous with Saudia’s blaming of Hamas for the Israeli pogrom in Gaza – on January 1, 09

Saudi Arabia yesterday blamed Hamas for Israel’s continuing offensive in the Gaza Strip and urged it to resolve bitter differences with the western-backed Palestinian Authority – even as divisions deepened with a new charge of treachery.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in emergency session in Cairo warned it was not possible to help until the Islamist movement in control of Gaza returned to national unity talks with its rival Fatah.

and even more disjunctive with Saudia’s original support of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in February 2006

Saudi Arabia will continue supporting the Palestinian Authority despite the election of a government led by the Islamic militant group Hamas — because it does not want to punish ordinary Palestinians, the kingdom’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

Turki’s missive recounts the approaches by Ahmadinejad to King Abdul for a unification of Sunni and Shia in combined defence of the Palestinian people may supercede the analysis made by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of the satellite television station Al-Arabiya, who on January 20 saw Hamas as having been used as a tool by Iran, alienating members of the Arab League –

“Hamas must be aware that they were used by Iran to attack the Arabs in an unprecedented way that surpasses any previous antagonism. Iran has progressed as a result of this, and made advancements on the ground to an extremely dangerous point, which includes the attempt to create chaos in Arab countries opposed to it, and explicitly seeking to destroy Saudi Arabia, and incite the overthrow of the Egyptian regime. Such audacity serves only to unite Arab countries against Hamas. However it is also just and reasonable to say that the door is still open; it is up to the Hamas movement to choose between returning to the Arab family or remaining a weapon in the hands of Iran.

“Hamas is in a good position, and must negotiate with itself with regards to its own relationship with the Arabs, who can only respect Hamas and ensure its political and material rights on Palestinian soil. Generally speaking, we know that Hamas is not a singular organization, despite the similarity of its language and political façade; there is Hamas the hostage to Damascus and Tehran and whose leaders live in hotels, and there is the Gazan Hamas who have paid a high price in order to fulfill the orders of their brothers in Damascus, the results of which were always disastrous. The Gazan Hamas must chose between Tehran or Cairo.”

On the divisions among Arabs, the Middle East Times notes in an editorial that if both the Israelis and Hamas claim that they are victorious, “who are the losers? The Arabs, of course. Why? The Arab world comes out of this war far more divided than it has been in decades. Egypt and Syria, the two powerhouses in the Middle East remain as far apart as they have ever been.” “And one side has been working overtime trying to convince the rest of the Arab world that they should sever ties with the Jewish state (Syria’s view), while Egypt’s approach to the conflict is to keep negotiations with Israel going.

Haaretz reports on Obama’s overtures to the Middle East and omits ‘commerce’ from his statement that the borders of Gaza should be open for both ‘aid and commerce’, as reported in Al Jazeera and elsewhere.

Tipsy is given star treatment in Haaretz with as she shifts goal posts and indicates to Hillary Clinton that Israel is to continue its collective punishment of the Gazan people

Israel would not open the Gaza crossings without progress toward the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit

As Hamas begins to hand out aid to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Israel’s collective punishment. “Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defence Ministry official, met Egyptian officials in Cairo on Thursday to discuss ways to stop smuggling through tunnels between Egypt and Gaza”.

Haaretz reports that

The London-based Asharq al-Awsat reported Saturday that Hamas has suggested representatives of the Palestinian Authority be stationed at the Rafah crossing, but that they be residents of Gaza, not the West Bank.

A Hamas delegation comprising representatives from Gaza and Damascus traveled to Cairo is to meet with Egyptian officials on Sunday.

One Hamas official reiterated the group’s demand that Shalit be freed as part of a larger prisoner exchange, and that his release not be tied to the issue of opening Gaza’s border crossings.

Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha told Asharq Al-Awsat that his group wants European Union and Turkish troops to patrol Gaza’s border crossings with Israel.

The discussions in Egypt will focus on a working paper to consolidate the cease-fire with Israel following the three-week offensive.

One official said the talks – slated for Sunday – will also address the fate of Israeli soldier Shalit, captured by militants in a June 2006 cross-border raid.

The Hamas officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The six-day-old truce remains fragile. Israel wants a halt to arms smuggling to the militants, while Hamas wants an end to Gaza blockade. Hamas demands the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Enduring America perceptively comments:

These are quite clever proposals. Hamas is trying to separate the Shalit issue from the question of reopening the crossings, and their proposals for the border are very close to the Mubarak-Sarkozy plan pressed by Cairo soon after the initial Israeli attacks. If Cairo agrees, Egypt has effectively dismissed its earlier hopes of removing Hamas from power, and the diplomatic ball will be in Tel Aviv’s court.

Jews sans Frontieres has some valuable insights into Richard Falk’s assertion that Palestine is poised for victory. I’d like to be confident about that too, yet tend toward the JSF realism.

George Mitchell is due in the region next Wednesday – latest news is that

Western, Arab and Israeli diplomats said [George Mitchell] was expected to make stops in Egypt, Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, but they ruled out direct contacts with Hamas who rules the Gaza Strip.

With an illegitimate President Abbas and Fatah, collaborators with the illegal Occupation as his sole base for negotiating settlement, will Mitchell contemplate his past negotiations with the IRA which led to successful resolution in Northern Ireland, smf bite the bullet to deal with the only democratically elected government in Palestine, Hamas, despite their designation, proliferated so successfully after their election by Israel, as a terrorist organisation?

Neri Bar-On throws more light on Mitchell

The Mitchell announcement came after eight years during which there has been no American peace envoy, and the substance of the Mitchell’s previous work on Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine is both attracting attention and igniting a precious, if cautious, spark of hope that progress toward peace might just be possible.

Writing about the ‘Irish Lessons For Peace’ in the International Herald Tribune in May 2007 (together with Richard Haass), Mitchell suggested that “those previously associated with violent groups” should be brought in, preconditions be kept to an “absolute minimum”, parties be allowed to “hold on to their dreams”, and that sanctions be imposed for backsliding on commitments. All sound advice for anyone seeking to overcome the flaws in the current Middle East peace process.