Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar 5762 - February 27, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Saudi Peace Plan Gets Broad Response
by Yated Ne'eman Staff and M Plaut

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 Palestinians.

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 week.

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- Eliezer.

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 movement.

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.


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