The Saudis do not like President Barak Obama and his administration. The reason is straightforward. They do not like the what
the administration says to them. They say things that Riyadh does not want to hear and, in their ears, sound downright dangerous.
By Prof Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Saudi Power
The Saudis do not like President Barak Obama and his administration. The reason is straightforward. They do not like the what the administration says to them. They say things that Riyadh does not want to hear and, in their ears, sound downright dangerous. For instance, the Obama administration has advised the Saudis, and the rest of the rulers in the Arab world, to get out ahead of the region’s growing protest movements and make democratic reforms. The Saudis have no tradition of democracy beyond the tribal advisory council. Before they were kings and princes, they were desert sheiks. Obama’s advice sounds like an erstwhile ally telling them to surrender. In the Bedouin tradition strong leaders do not surrender without a struggle.
The Saudis have shown their frustration with Washington in a number of dramatic ways. One was their coming to the rescue of the Bahraini monarchy (more sheikhs now calling themselves kings) and supporting the outright fascist reaction that regime has been practicing on its majority Shi’ite citizens. The Saudi’s are Wahhabi Sunnis, the most conservative of Muslims, and they do not care what happens to the Shi’ites. They view them as heretics and suspect that the ones in Bahrain are acting as the pawns of Iran (who they fear as a rising Shi’ite regional power). So the Bahraini terror seems a good and necessary thing in Riyadh. This writer finds the Saudi attitude in relation to Bahrain despicable.
The second way the Saudis have shown their frustration is by pointing a finger at U.S. hypocrisy. This was done in a sharp, no-nonsense op-ed by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal in the Washington Post of 10 June 2011. Turki has strong credentials. He has been the Saudi ambassador to both the U.S. and the U.K. He has been his country’s chief of intelligence. And while he presently holds no government office (which is probably why he was the one who authored this op-ed) his sentiments undoubtedly reflect those of the Saudi government. So what did the prince say?
1. Referring to President Obama’s speech on events in the Middle East, Turki noted that “President Obama…admonished Arab governments to embrace democracy” while he “conspicuously failed to demand the same rights to self-determination for Palestinians–despite the occupation of their territory by the region’s strongest military power.”
2. Turki found equally depressing “the sight of Congress applauding the denial of basic human rights to the Palestinian people” when recently addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
3. Taken together, the denial of such rights to the Palestinians, while calling for them for the rest of the Arab world was, in the Saudi view, a clear indicator that “any peace plans co-authored by the United States and Israel would be untenable and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain intractable as long as U.S. policy is unduly beholden to Israel.”
4. Thus, “in the absence of productive negotiations, the time has come for Palestinians to bypass the United States and Israel and to seek direct international endorsement of statehood at the United Nations. They will be fully supported in doing so by Saudi Arabia.
If the Saudis have it all wrong in Bahrain, they have it all right on Palestine. But the message does not stop here. Turki proceeds to throw down the gauntlet, so to speak.
5. “American leaders have long called Israel an ‘indispensable’ ally. They will soon learn that there are other players in the region…who are as, if not more, ‘indispensable.’ The game of favoritism toward Israel has not proven wise for Washington, and soon it will be shown to be an even greater folly….There will be disastrous consequences for U.S.-Saudi relations if the United States vetoes U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.”
It should be noted that there is no legal basis for such a veto in the UN General Assembly, but the Obama administration could make things very difficult simply by twisting arms so as to get nations dependent on Washington to vote no on Palestinian recognition. That, by the way, is what the Truman administration did in 1948 in order to get the necessary yes votes for Israel’s recognition as a state (the vote was a close thing). It would be sadly ironic if the Obama administration tried the same tactic to defeat the Palestinian effort.
6. Turki concludes, “We Arabs used to say no to peace, and we got our comeuppance in 1967. In 2002 King Abdullah offered what has become the Arab Peace Initiative….it calls for an end to the conflict based on land for peace….Now, it is the Israelis who are saying no. I’d hate to be around when they face their comeuppance.”
It would be dangerous to consider this a bluff. Turki is quite right when he says that there are others in the Middle East region who are more indispensable to the United States and the West in general than Israel. For instance, any and all of the oil producers of the area. To demonstrate this the Saudis do not have to repeat the oil embargo of 1973. All they have to do is cut back on production a little bit at a time and pressure the other Arab producers to do so as well. If they do that President Obama will be campaigning in 2012 with gasoline at above $5 a gallon. Nor will the price come down just because he loses to Mitt Romney or some other candidate in an elephant costume. It is unlikely to come down until the Palestinians have a just peace.
Part II – Israeli Power
Against this reference to very real Saudi power we have Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest bit of legerdemain. In a Rome press conference the Prime Minister, backed up by the smiling approval of his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, told the world that “the problem is not the settlements; the root of the conflict is the fact that the Palestinians refuse to recognize the existence of the Jewish state.” Later on Netanyahu elaborated, “This is an insoluble conflict because it is not about territory….Until the Palestinians agree to accept Israel – not just as a country, but as a Jewish state – it will be impossible to move forward.”
All Israeli leaders seem to have possessed this power to create illusions. Here Netanyahu manifests this by moving the peace process goalpost simply by the spoken word. This magic act seems to be underpinned by the spectators complete lack of historical memory and perspective. So, Netanyahu is able to say historically incorrect things and get away with it. Here is what he left out:
1. In 1993 the Palestine Liberation Organization, then led by Yasir Arafat, formally recognized the state of Israel . At the time it was clearly understood what the “state of Israel” meant. No one was trying to play fast and loose by leaving out a descriptive term like “Jewish.” Arafat himself latertold the Guardian newspaper that it was “clear and obvious” both that Israel was and will be Jewish and the refugee problem has to be solved in a way that maintained that Jewish character.
2. Then there is the information revealed by the leaked Palestine Papers (January 2011). What they showed was that Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) and his follows had offered the Israelis just about every thing they wanted. As I noted at that time, Abbas and his colleagues “were willing to accept the Bantustans, to give up almost all of Jerusalem, to turn their backs on 99% of the Palestinian refugees, to look the other way as the people of Gaza were slaughtered and to even serve as an ally of the Israeli occupation forces on the West Bank. By the time they were done there was nothing left that was worth fighting for. As the PNA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat told U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, they had done everything but “convert to Zionism.” And yet, the Israelis scorned the Palestinian compromises.”
Now, one can say that Netanyahu is so narrow minded and under-informed that he does not remember 1993 or Arafat’s subsequent clarification to the Guardian. But he must remember the capitulation described in the Palestine Papers. After all, it happened partly on his own watch. So, what is it with him and his “Jewish state”demand? The only logical conclusion is that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a “confidence artist” and he thinks of the rest of us, particularly the U.S. Congress, as his “marks.” Behind this illusion is the reality: the Israeli leadership is not interested in peace. Indeed, peace is to be avoided because it would necessarily stop their absorption of Palestinian land. This is really why it is “impossible to move forward.”
Part III – And The Winner Would Be….
What happens if the Saudis decide that the time really has come to exercise their immense economic power for the sake of the Palestinians? Can the power of the Israeli con artists successfully compete? Well here are some things to consider:
1. Zionist power outside of Palestine is confined to a small number of locales. That does not mean it is not real, but it does mean that its basis is shallow. For instance, its twin pillars are holocaust guilt and lobby influence. The latter, at least in the U.S., comes in the form of political payoffs. The Zionists also have media leverage but that influence is not as ubiquitous as it use to be. It is unclear just how long it would hold up in the face of serious economic counterweights.
2. Saudi Arabia’s power, on the other hand, is truly international and represents well founded, mass economic power. If the price of energy starts going higher and higher because the Saudis and other Arab oil producers cut back on production, the Zionists can’t do a thing about it. And what is Washington and the Europeans going to do? Invade Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, et. al.? That sort of thing happens in suspense novels and will only be advocated by fringe extremists of the John Bolton type. It is not likely to happen in the real world.
No. In this kind of confrontation the Zionists can not win. They are just not as indispensable as affordable energy. It is interesting that not much is being said about this in the U.S. media. Maybe the Zionists and their friends think that if they ignore the Saudis, they will just go away. Maybe they are praying for fusion power before September. Maybe they think it is all bluff.
Personally, I think it might just be Saudi Arabia’s moment. That it is Saudi power that can force a just peace on Washington and Tel Aviv. Let us hope so. For Palestine I’m ready to pay per gallon whatever it costs.