Spearheading the most credible Mideast peacemaking effort since
the resurgence of the Israel-Palestinian conflict 19 months ago,
Saudi Arabia is patiently but inexorably bringing Arab neighbors
together around a single peace plan.
Saudi Arabia is working closely with the US to build behind-the-
scenes momentum toward its March peace initiative, says Saudi
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. The plan calls for Arab
nations to recognize the Jewish state, if Israel withdraws fully
from Arab territory occupied in the 1967 war.
"If there is any hope or remaining optimism for peace, it is
because of the position of the Arab countries," says Prince Saud, in
an interview between trips at his plush Jeddah residence on the
western Red Sea flank of this vast desert kingdom.
Since Crown Prince Abdullah - the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia
- met with President George W. Bush late last month at his ranch in
Texas, a division of labor has emerged: Saudi Arabia is focusing
Arab pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as long as the US
knuckles down on Prime Minister Sharon's military moves.
Since then, Saudi leaders have:
* helped earlier this month broker the end of the five-month
Israeli siege of Mr. Arafat's office in Ramallah;
* been in "constant" daily contact with the Palestinians,
insisting that Arafat do what he can to stop violence and to reform
his Palestinian Authority and security forces; (Despite this, there
was another suicide attack in Israel on Sunday. But US officials
reacted in a lighter way. National Security Advsier Condoleeza Rice
suggested the bombings were beyond Arafat's control.)
* been instrumental in getting Syria to reject "all forms of
violence," which diplomats read to include suicide bombings;
* weighed in, along with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to
help forestall an invasion of the Gaza Strip earlier this month;
* and been in daily contact with Washington, pushing the Bush
administration to pressure Sharon to end Israeli military
"The growing intifada has done more to threaten this regime than
at any time since 1979," when anti-regime radicals took control of
the Grand Mosque at Mecca, says the US official. "They are doing
what you would expect them to do: plead with the US to put a cap on
"We are doing everything that is necessary, but every time we
make a step towards compromise and peace in the Arab world, [Israel
Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon steps back and raises the ante," Prince
Saud says, noting that Israeli raids continue in Palestinian towns,
along with more casualties.
"That is something unacceptable," Prince Saud says. "The Arab
countries can't continue this policy, in the face of this disregard
and these actions by Mr. Sharon."
A 'very significant' plan
The result is heavy telephone diplomacy with Washington, even as
Saudi Arabia seeks to bridge Arab differences. Arab foreign
ministers met in Beirut on Saturday. Arab League Secretary-General
Amr Moussa ruled out a summer peace conference proposed by the US
and European Union while Israel is still engaged in "occupation,
murder, and sabotage"; Prince Saud reportedly did not rule out the
The Saudi peace plan is "very significant," a US official here
says, because it may spell the end of the rejectionist Arab camp
that refuses to make peace with Israel. "[Saudi Crown Prince]
Abdullah has a lot of credibility in the Arab world. He is beyond
the vision thing. He is hitting the phone."
Continued Israeli raids and Palestinian suicide bombings
underscore the need for credible, mutual peace moves - and more
American pressure - Saudi officials say. Sharon has rejected any
return to pre-1967 borders, the key to the Saudi land-for-peace
"We are daily in contact with [the Americans]," says Prince Saud.
"They have shown that when they want to act, they can act