By Charles Krauthammer, March 6, 2002
In 35 years of studying the Middle East, I have rarely seen anything to rival the
Saudi “peace plan” for cynicism (of those pushing the plan) and gullibility (of
those buying it).
If it were not so tragic it would be comic. Israeli civilians are being blown
up almost daily in restaurants, at bus stops, at prayer. Retaliatory attacks are
launched by the hour. A new “peace plan” is then floated whose essence is
this: when peace is achieved between the two parties killing each other on the
ground, the Saudis will give it their blessing and make peace too.
Forgive me, but this is entirely beside the point. The point is not what the Arab
states will do after peace dawns — And what would they do? Keep the war
going after the Palestinians make peace? — but to find a way to stop the
Apart from the fact that the plan is an obvious Saudi ploy to blunt American
anger at the shockingly deep Saudi role in Sept. 11 by posing as peacemakers,
apart from the fact that it gives make-work to U.N., EU and other
underemployed diplomats with not an idea in their heads how to stop the
violence, the plan has a very specific objective: misdirection.
The plan — a repetition of maximal Arab demands from which they have
not budged in two decades — is a transparent attempt to take world attention
away from the source of the violence.
Ever since the devastating suicide bombings of Dec. 1 and 2 in Jerusalem and
Haifa that murdered 25 Israelis, world attention has been on Yasser Arafat.
Shortly before Dec. 1, the Bush administration had bent to Arab demands and
became seriously reinvolved in brokering peace, explicitly advocating a
Palestinian state and sending a special envoy, Gen. Anthony Zinni, to lead the
negotiations. Zinni arrived in Jerusalem and was greeted by an orgy of
A furious and embarrassed U.S. administration then insisted that Arafat
re-arrest the terrorists he had deliberately released from jail at the beginning of
the intifada and crack down on the terrorist infrastructure that he had made
common cause with under the umbrella of the “National and Islamic Forces.”
Even the European Union, normally a wholly owned subsidiary of the
Arab League, agreed.
It is three months later and Arafat has done nothing. On the contrary. The
suicide bombings are coming with increasing frequency and with
ever-increasing adulation in Arafat’s media and propaganda. More ambushes,
more bombings, more missiles, more bloodshed.
Everyone knows that if Arafat would call a stop, Israel would reciprocate. But
for 17 months, he has refused. Why? Because he is winning. Israel is bleeding,
demoralized, leaderless, economically devastated. Arafat knows that he may
yet get what he wants — unilateral withdrawal.
For Arafat, such an Israeli capitulation, mirroring its capitulation in
Lebanon, would be the sweetest of victories: land without peace.
He has a serious obstacle, however. American pressure. How to relieve it?
Change the subject. Make the issue not the Palestinian campaign of terror but
newfound Saudi peacefulness.
What is the key symbol of the U.S. pressure on Arafat? Its support of Israel’s
confinement of Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah until he shuts down the
terror. What then do you imagine is the newest key demand of the Saudi plan?
You guessed it.
On Monday, Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath, who had just
met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, revealed that the Saudis would refuse
to present the plan to the Arab League meeting in Beirut on March 27-28 —
unless Arafat is allowed to attend.
The clouds part. The fog lifts. The peace plan turns out to be a device for
springing Arafat from his confinement — without having acceded to U.S.
demands to shut down the terror.
His resumption of globe-trotting would publicly demonstrate his
successful defiance of the American effort to stop the violence. (President
Hosni Mubarak’s invitation yesterday to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a
summit in Egypt — on condition that Arafat attend as well — dovetails perfectly
with the Saudi breakout strategy for Arafat.)
It would be a spectacular diplomatic victory — a triumphal return to Beirut to a
thunderous reception from his fellow Arabs — and dramatic vindication of his
policy of the past two years: rejecting Israel’s Camp David 2000 peace offer,
tearing up the Oslo accords, then waging terror and guerrilla war. Such success
for his war policy is guaranteed to increase the violence.
The audacity of this maneuver is breathtaking. But why not? It is working. The
New York Times bought the Saudi peace plan (last Sunday alone, lavishing two
feature stories and nearly a dozen photographs over five pages). The Europeans
bought it. The diplomatic-media complex bought it. All that stands in the way of
pulling this off is for the Bush administration to buy it.
Thus far and to its credit, the administration has not. But the pressure to cave,
already applied by the visiting Mubarak, is growing. It must be resisted. This
phony plan will do nothing but relieve the pressure on Arafat to stop the war.