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A critical Saudi peace initiative

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How significant is the Middle East peace initiative launched by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Saud? More than some might expect, for two reasons. First, as the violence between Israelis and Palestinians ratchets up to new levels, there is a yearning for something that might take the parties back to the negotiating table. Second, the Saudis have traditionally played a silent, watchful diplomatic game, waiting for others to make the first move. For Abdullah to issue such a public proposal--his diplomats call it a "statement of vision" and a "signal to the Israeli people"--is unprecedented.

Abdullah's plan, first reported in the New York Times, anticipates Arab nations' granting Israel a full peace and normalization of relations in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and other territories seized in the 1967 war. Given Saudi Arabia's weight in the Arab world, because of its oil wealth and stewardship of the two holy cities, the promise to Israel of an eventual "warm peace" is potentially significant. In an interview with TIME, Abdullah went out of his way to acknowledge that Israelis as well as Palestinians have suffered. "On one side," he said, "we have people who are being humiliated, killed, whose trees are being uprooted and whose land is being confiscated. On the other side, we have people who are being subjected to constant violence."

Abdullah also told TIME he endorses the Tenet and Mitchell proposals for confidence-building measures in the region, and he called for international peacekeepers to separate the warring sides. On a visit to Washington last week, Abdullah's foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir, assured Administration officials that the Saudi proposal was serious. U.S. sources say it will be discussed with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Washington next week and will undoubtedly come up during Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to the region.

Despite the Saudi olive branch, Abdullah was critical of Ariel Sharon. Responsibility for violence in the region, he said, "lies squarely with the person who gave the orders. You cannot break out of this cycle of violence when the Prime Minister of Israel orders planes to drop bombs and invade villages."



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Cover Date: March 4, 2002

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