During the G-20 summit in London, Barack Obama took time out for a brief meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia caught on video by two cameras, and by a still photographer, where the U.S. president bowed deeply in greeting the Saudi monarch. No major American media paid any attention to the startling, unreciprocated bow, gesture of subservience.
In tandem, there was scant attention paid to a disquieting comment by Obama when he spoke effusively about a 2002 Saudi peace initiative for normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel. The Saudi initiative, which would end Israel as a Jewish state, is now also the official position of the entire Arab League.
In a brief press statement, the White House said "the President reiterated his appreciation for Saudi Arabia's leadership in promoting the Arab peace initiative."Later, President Obama's Middle East Special Envoy, George Mitchell, said the U.S. intends to "incorporate" the initiative into its Middle East policy
That stops short of an explicit endorsement of the Saudi-Arab plan, but it comes uncomfortably close. Either way, Obama's gushing over the Saudi initiative hardly can be reconciled with his oft-repeated assurances that Israel can count on U.S "unwavering support" of its basic security interests.
The Saudi initiative usually is presented in mainstream media as a pretty good deal -- Arab nations would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 line and a "just" solution to the refugee problem.
But there's far more to the plan, and the devilish details can't be swept away or ignored.
For starters, the plan would grant millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants a "right of return" to Israel -- a demographic bomb in the megaton range that would end up creating two states -- both Palestinian. The Saudis pull off this feat by defining a "just" solution to the refugee problem as having to be "in accordance with" UN General Assembly Resolution 194 -- a non-binding 1948 measure that vainly pleaded for an end to Arab aggression against the nascent Jewish state. In the midst of the war, the resolution also pleaded for return of refugees -- not just for Arabs who were displaced but for all refugees, including a greater number of Jews who were being driven out of Arab lands.
Significantly, all Arab nations voted against Resolution 194 -- after all, they weren't ready in late 1948 to halt their war against Israel. But in later years, in a revisionist twist, they adopted Resolution 194 as a legal warrant for a "return" of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
As if this weren't enough, the Saudi initiative -- with its absolute insistence on Israeli withdrawal to the 1949-1967 armistice line -- would require Israel to pull back from all of Gaza (which it already has done), from the entire West Bank, from all of East Jerusalem, and from the entire Old City of Jerusalem, the site of Judaism's most sacred shrine -- the Western Wall.
Jewish worshippers again would be beholden to an Arab regime for access to the Western Wall, having tasted the bitter experience of not being allowed to pray there during Jordan's 19-year-old occupation of the Old City. Jordan destroyed numerous synagogues there and used Jewish tombstones from the Mount of Olives to build a road. It doesn't take much imagination to project a repeat of this tragic episode if Palestinians ruled the entire Old City since, in areas already under their control, they have fired on Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem, demolished Joseph's Tomb near Nablus and desecrated an ancient synagogue in Jericho.
To comply with the Saudi initiative, Israel would have to uproot more than a half million Jews from the Old City, East Jerusalem, and close-in Jewish settlements that George W. Bush pledged would remain on the Israeli side in any two-state peace deal.
Prior U.S. and Israeli governments offered a cordial but nuanced reception to the Saudi plan over the last seven years. The diplomatic term usually was that the Arab initiative had some promising elements that could form a "basis" for productive negotiations. But neither Bush, nor Ariel Sharon or his successor Ehud Olmert, ever embraced it in its totality. King Abdullah and other Arab rulers, however, insist on full acceptance of their initiative -- take it or leave it.
Now comes Obama in his debut on the world stage and gets ever so close to a full endorsement of this Saudi "gift" to peace.
One is left to wonder if the President is aware of the full implications of the Saudi-Arab peace initiative, or how he's put Israel behind the eight ball by praising King Abdullah's efforts to put it front and center in future peace negotiations.
Since Obama previously was quoted as saying that "the Israelis would be crazy not to support this initiative," it is past time for him to explain how he reconciles the real Saudi plan with Israel's real security challenges.