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Political Play of the Week

Saudi peace proposal has something for everybody



By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amidst the terrible escalation of violence in the Middle East, a glimmer of hope appeared this week.

You couldn't call it a breakthrough, but you could call it the political Play of the Week.

Timing is everything. Even in the Middle East.

Just when you think the peace process hits rock bottom, the bottom drops, said Adel al-Jubeir, adviser to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Good timing for a new peace initiative -- especially one that comes from Saudi Arabia, a country that has never been involved in the Middle East peace process.

The content of the Saudi proposal is not all that new.

Here is an idea that is very simple, said al-Jubeir. It essentially says, withdraw from the territories, including Jerusalem, in exchange for normalization.

In other words, land for peace. Haven't we heard this before? Yes.

What's new is the fact that it's coming from the Saudis, a country with unique standing in the Arab world; and the fact that it defines what peace means: collective recognition of Israel by the entire Arab world, led by the Saudis.

That's never been offered before.

We think its a significant, positive step, not only in content, but also in the fact that it was made, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

The Saudi proposal has drawn a lot of interest because it serves so many political needs.

The United States needs to look engaged in the Middle East peace process -- a topic President Bush didn't even mention in his State of the Union speech in January.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat needs to regain his legitimacy after being isolated and ostracized. So the Palestinian leader is enthusiastic.

The Israelis need to find a way out.

We welcome by and large the Saudi proposal. We think there are some new elements in the Saudi position, said Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres.

Most of all, the Saudis need to change the subject from their connection to Islamic extremism.

And they need to change their image -- which has deteriorated badly since September 11 -- in the United States.

The Saudi proposal is a politically opportune move. What will come of it? That's not clear. What is clear is that it's the political Play of the Week.

Don't forget, Vice President Cheney will be looking for Saudi support when he goes to the Middle East this month to talk about ousting Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Embracing the Saudi proposal can't hurt.