A new peace plan to resolve the conflict in Eretz Yisroel
proposed recently by Saudi Arabia has received considerable
response from a number of different directions. Now Israeli
prime minister Ariel Sharon has expressed a willingness to
discuss the proposal with the Saudis.
The plan calls for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines in
return for full diplomatic relations, normalized trade, and
security guarantees from Arab countries.
Those in the Palestinian Authority who were more involved in
the Oslo peace process and more committed to it have welcomed
the new initiative. Optimistic observers said that the
proposal provides an opportunity for them to regain influence
at the expense of the extremist and violent factions who have
dominated things recently.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked authorities in
the United States to help arrange a meeting -- public or
secret -- with Saudi officials to discuss the peace plan of
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.
Sharon alluded to it for the first time at Sunday's security
cabinet meeting. Responding to a suggestion from Justice
Minister Meir Sheetrit that Sharon meet the crown prince, the
prime minister said he had he had already taken some steps
regarding the Saudi initiative, but did not elaborate.
"If we are dealing with a new process that can change the
makeup of the Middle East, we cannot say no," Defense
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said after meeting with
visiting US Senator Hillary Clinton. "We must first say yes
and agree to listen."
Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif said the PA hopes Sharon is
seriously ready to discuss the Saudi proposal, because it
could be a way out of the impasse and an opportunity for
Israel to make peace with all its neighbors, while granting
the Palestinians their state.
Henry Siegman, a senior fellow and director of the US/Middle
East Project at the Council on Foreign Relations, met early
this week with Peres, Sharon adviser Dore Gold, and European
Union Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos to advance the plan.
Siegman was scheduled to meet with Arafat and he hopes to
meet the crown prince next week.
Siegman told The Jerusalem Post that a cabinet
decision to ease the restrictions on PA leader Arafat but not
let him leave Ramallah has dealt a blow to the chances of not
only the Saudi plan, but the Peres-Qurei plan as well.
Siegman said he does not believe the Saudis think the Israeli
government would adopt the plan, but they hope they can make
the Israeli public regain hope for the diplomatic track with
the Palestinians. "The Saudis understand that there is a
spirit of hopelessness on both sides, and they are addressing
that," Siegman said.
Siegman criticized Sharon for asking the Americans to set up
a meeting with the Saudis, accusing the prime minister of
making the offer because he knows the Saudis cannot accept
it. Siegman said, "He's saying he would meet with them, which
would mean for the Saudis normalizing relations now.
Obviously the Saudis will never do that."
Siegman said the Saudi plan must be treated seriously,
because the Saudis are going farther than what the
Palestinians have been willing to accept. He first reported
in an op-ed piece in The New York Times last week that
the Saudis would agree to give Israel sovereignty over the
Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City,
as well as territorial exchanges between Israel and the
He said the Palestinians have never conceded sovereignty over
east Jerusalem, but he will tell Arafat to bring his demands
in line with those of the Saudis.
The plan first emerged when the crown prince told New York
Times columnist Tom Friedman that he intends to deliver
the initiative in a speech at the Arab summit.
An adviser to the crown prince said the plan still stands and
that most Arabs agree with its premise.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the plan could
provide an opening to halt the region's rising violence. US
officials called the proposal significant, because it came
from a ruler viewed as a strong Palestinian supporter and was
immediately praised by moderate Arab nations, including
Egypt. It is expected to be a key topic when US President
George W. Bush and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meet next
Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met last week with
the crown prince's Washington representative, Adel al-
Jubeir, to explore the idea.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres defended the security cabinet's
decision to lift the tight closure on Palestinian Authority
Chairman Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, but continue
to prevent him from leaving the city.
Peres explained the decision lifts the siege on Arafat and
restores the status quo by which Arafat needs Israeli
approval to travel through Israeli-controlled areas to get to
other Palestinian cities. Israeli tanks pulled back from
Arafat's headquarters to the outskirts of Ramallah early this
week under orders from Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-
The security cabinet said the PA's arrests of three murderers
of tourism minister Rechavam Ze'evi are a direct result of
Israel's pressure on the PA.
Shin Bet head Avi Dichter called the arrests of the three --
identified as Ahed Abu Gholmi, leader of the Abu Ali Mustafa
Brigades, Basel Asmar, and Hamdi Koran -- the most
significant PA arrests since that of Muhammad Deif, head of
Hamas's military wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades.
The cabinet's insistence on the arrests of others involved in
Ze'evi's murder and the Karine A affair remains unchanged.
Israel will continue to demand the extradition of Ze'evi's
assassins, but not as a condition for further easing
restrictions on Arafat's movement.
The PA has flatly rejected all extradition requests.
The decision states that Arafat's departure from Ramallah
will require a decision by a forum, the composition of which
would be decided upon by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in
consultation with Ben-Eliezer -- a decision that for all
intents and purposes gives Sharon sole control over Arafat's
Spokesman Raanan Gissin said the next month could be a test
for Arafat, who is eager to attend the Arab League summit in
Beirut, which begins on March 27.