June 2, 2009

A Tall Order for Saudi Arabia?

The New York Times inadvertently highlights how much more intransigent than Israel most Arab states are. President Barack Obama is soon heading to Saudi Arabia, where he will present wish-lists from the U.S. government, from the Israeli government, and from the Palestinian Authority. Israel isn’t asking for much – just a few symbolic tourist visas, meetings between Saudi officials and their Israeli counterparts, and the opening of a Saudi interests office in Tel Aviv. “These would be a tall order for the Arab kingdom,” the Times says.

Good grief. The Obama Administration expects Israelis to stop building houses in Jewish neighborhoods in suburban Jerusalem that they never intend to abandon, yet the Saudis won’t even _talk _to Israelis or let a few Jews visit the beach.

Once in a while, it’s wise to refuse meetings with enemies. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito during World War II. President Obama won’t hold a summit with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar or with Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Israel, though, isn’t a threat to Saudi Arabia. Israel has never attacked Saudi Arabia. Israel almost certainly never will attack Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace and normal relations with Saudi Arabia now. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to even speak to Israelis under these circumstances makes its government more reactionary than Israel’s would have been had then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused to meet with then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979.

The idea that Saudi Arabia “can’t” have diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian question is resolved has become mainstream, even axiomatic, but it’s nonsense.

Azerbaijan has an overwhelming Muslim majority, but Israel has an embassy there. Relations between the two countries are not only good, they’re improving. Most Turks, including those in the government, sympathize more with Palestinians than with Israelis, but Turkey remains an ally of Israel. Seventy percent of Albanians are at least nominal Muslims, but Albania gets along just fine with Israel.

None of those Muslim-majority countries are Arab, to be sure, but that shouldn’t make any difference. Egypt and Jordan are Arabic countries. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they fought deadly hot wars with Israel. Yet they both signed peace treaties years ago. There is no iron law of geopolitics that requires Saudi Arabia to remain in a state of cold war with Israel. The only reason the Saudis don’t have normal relations with Israel is because they prefer hostile relations.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 2, 2009 11:43 AM
Comments

Remember Desert Storm troops wanting to celebrate Christmas? And it wasn't as if they asked for permission to erect a nativity creche in downtown Jedda. Those behind-closed-doors views one of Michael's colleagues talked about need to come out front as leaders, not risk averse poll watchers. Otherwise, Same Old prevails. (Too?) much work yet to be done.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at June 2, 2009 4:17 PM

Moshe Dayan was once asked about his success as a general and to what he attributed that success. "Fight Arabs," he answered. Then you could read David Pryce-Jones book on the Arab mind. The conclusion is that Arabs have been repeatedly humiliated and cannot tolerate that so they posture and hate and make threats. Almost always, the threats are empty. Persians, on the other hand, are not Arabs and their threats may be far more dangerous.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at June 2, 2009 7:21 PM

I wonder if the mixed-gender classical music concert in Riyadh May 2, 2008 has led to other mixed-sex events. Big steps for them, but someone has to lead.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at June 2, 2009 8:15 PM

From what I read, my impression is that the Kurdish people get along well with Jews and have no animosity towards Israel. They long for their own homeland, but their goals of national sovereignty are opposed by the Turks, the Arabs, and the Iranians.

Posted by: Harold Author Profile Page at June 3, 2009 7:39 AM

What's the mystery? Saudi Arabia is one of the most corrupt states on the planet - it's ruled by a parasitical elite that is squandering the country's oil wealth. Stirring up hatred towards Israel is vitally important to channeling the population's energies away from domestic politics. I think the leaders of Saudi Arabia are truly afraid of what will happen to them if the bogeyman of Israel is no longer there. Saudi Arabia will never make peace as long as the Sauds rule there.

Posted by: Dyadya Vanya Author Profile Page at June 3, 2009 8:51 AM

Harold: From what I read, my impression is that the Kurdish people get along well with Jews and have no animosity towards Israel. They long for their own homeland, but their goals of national sovereignty are opposed by the Turks, the Arabs, and the Iranians.

That is correct.

Most Persians don't have that big of a problem with Jews or Israel, either. Militant anti-Zionism is primarily an Arab phenomenon, but Khomeini sought to Arabize Persia for political reasons.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 3, 2009 10:36 AM

Vanya: What's the mystery? Saudi Arabia is one of the most corrupt states on the planet - it's ruled by a parasitical elite that is squandering the country's oil wealth. Stirring up hatred towards Israel is vitally important to channeling the population's energies away from domestic politics.

Of course. That goes on all over the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia will never make peace as long as the Sauds rule there.

Probably true. The same is definitely true of the Assads in Syria. Assad needs war with Israel (as long as Lebanon and Gaza take the incoming fire) more than anyone.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 3, 2009 10:40 AM
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