Sunday, February 11, 2007

Two views of the Saudi initiative

Ahmed Rubaie, in an op-ed in Asharq al-Awsat, says the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas should become a model for the resolution of a host of other Arab problems.
What about a meeting in Mecca between the countries of the Maghreb on mechanisms for the solution of the Sahara problem; or a meeting in Mecca to solve the Sudan problem? What about the "silent problems" between certain countries of the Gulf?

Are we dreaming if we suggest serious thought be given to solving Arab problems with quiet talk, away from the media and the satellite-TV wars? Hasn't experience confirmed for us that letting problems grow until they result in foreign intervention is an adventure with unforeseeable results, for which we have paid a heavy price? What happens is we let problems grow until finally others take the hatchet to them, and then we start blaming the foreigner and the occupier, without taking any responsibility for our prior silence.

Let's put this to the test. Let's start by inviting all of the warring paries in Iraq to Mecca for talks. If it doesn't lead anywhere, at least there will have been no harm done. And it might succeed, as the Palestinian talks did. Anyway let's try.
A look at the Asharq al-Awsat opinion pieces yesterday, immediately following the results at Mecca, indicates one big presupposition and potential flaw in this argument. Both of the top commentators on that day described the Saudi role as having been successful in and of itself, and they didn't mention any need for follow-up efforts by the Saudi regime to market this to the Americans and the Europeans, so as to ensure the end of the de facto blockade and the resumption of government financial and other aid. Their point was that everything is now up to the Palestinians, so that if this fails, the Saudi regime will have been blameless. In other words, the Saudis have done their job.

By contrast, the next-day stories in the critical papers Al-Akhbar and Al-Quds al-Arabi stressed the Saudi responsibility for the marketing of this agreement to the West (in addition, naturally, to the responsibilities of the Palestinian parties). Abdulbari Atwan's Al-Quds al-Arabi column, and the Al-Akhbar news report, both refer to the crucial importance of followup efforts by the Saudi regime to "market" this agreement to the West. The latter puts it this way:
[The Saudi regime was successful in hosting this]. However, the biggest challenge now for the Saudis, as sponsors of these talks, is going to be ensuring the marketing of the national-unity Palestinian government internationally, and lifting the blockade against its people. This isn't going to be an easy task, particularly since the initial reactions of the US and Israel [talked about the three conditions including "recognition of Israel" and so on]...
In other words, on this view, the job is by no means done.

So these are two different ways of looking at what happened in Mecca. The Saudi writers take the position the Saudi regime exhibited all of the initiative that could possibly be demanded of it, thus opening up, for the likes of Rubaie and others, a possible brave new world of Mecca-inspired solutions. The critics say the all-important question of Saudi political will is still an open question.

Which for one thing makes you wonder about the US corporate media presentation of this as already a case of Saudi-victory/US defeat.


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