The Saudi Peace Plan/ Palestinian Society

Mar 30, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

March 30, 2007
Number 03/07 #11

Today’s Update opens with some additional comment on the Saudi peace plan, re-endorsed without alteration at the Arab League Summit, along with some threatening language directed at Israel warning what would happen if the plan was not accepted in total.

Israeli academic and former Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold, who wrote a recent book on Saudi politics, analyses the Saudi approach to Arab-Israel peacemaking and why hopes the Arab League summit would alter the plan to create a breakthrough were always unlikely. He argues that the peace plan was never about peacemaking but public relations, and that peace with Israel is actually a fairly low priority for the Saudis. He has some suggestions about how Saudi interests in peacemaking can make a positive contribution, but argues grand gestures are not likely to be fruitful. For this full argument, CLICK HERE.

Next up, Avi Issacharoff, Palestinian affairs correspondent for Haaretz, reports on the ongoing Hamas-Fatah fighting continuing in Gaza, despite the unity government installed last week. It is a grizzly tale of daily gunfights, and gangs of armed thugs out of control, revenge killings and the murder of children, a Palestinian Somalia as he describes it. He concludes that Arab-Israel peace looks more feasible than intra-Palestinian peace. For all the ugly details, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the always insightful Professor Barry Rubin explores the decline of the Fatah movement, so long the mainstay of Palestinian nationalism, which he says looks more marginal than ever as essentially a junior partner under the new national unity government.  He points to four factors that contributed to its fall from political pre-eminence, and also has some negative conclusions about prospects for the future, both for Fatah and for peace. For this important insight into the evolution of Palestinian political society, CLICK HERE.

Analysis: Are the Saudis seeking peace?

Dore Gold


With the visit of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week and the special attention she gave to the revival of the 2002 Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative, expectations had been elevated that yesterday’s Riyadh Arab summit might provide a mechanism for restarting the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Certainly, Israeli diplomats had hoped that a modified peace plan might be adopted by the Arab heads of state that would leave out any references to the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel – a non-starter across the Israeli political spectrum. When that seemed unlikely, there was increasing speculation that while the formal initiative would remain unchanged, then at least some other statements would be made separately that would try to reach out to Israeli public opinion and build mutual confidence.

But the Arab Peace Initiative got off to a bad start when Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned Israel that its rejection of the plan would leave its fate in the hands of the “lords of war.”

Rather than obtaining some flexibility, Israel was handed an ultimatum.

This was not the style of either President Anwar Sadat or King Hussein, but rather a grossly mismanaged way of launching any modus vivendi with Israel.

Moreover, if Israel thought Rice’s optimistic diplomacy earlier in the week was based on some well-established US-Saudi coordination, it came as a total surprise when Jim Hoagland disclosed in The Washington Post yesterday that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah canceled a mid-April gala dinner with President George W. Bush in the White House.

Hoagland heard from administration sources that Riyadh had decided for now to seek common ground with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah. It now becomes understandable why the Saudis chose to strengthen Hamas, with the Mecca Agreement, at the expense of Mahmoud Abbas, who just became politically even more sidelined.

If Saudi Arabia has decided to distance itself from the US at this time, then how could Washington expect that now the time was ripe for a Saudi-Israeli rapprochement under an American umbrella?

The last time the Saudi initiative was discussed during the 2002 Arab summit in Beirut, Hamas attacked the Park Hotel in Netanya during the first night of Pessah, killing 29 Israelis and wounding over 150. At that time, Saudi Arabia did not signal to Israel that it was serious about peace by cutting back its financial support of Hamas; in fact, it grew to over 50 percent of Hamas’s total income in 2003.

Moreover, the Saudis did not approach Israel directly but chose to launch their initiative through the columns of Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. The medium was the message. The key figure making the press contacts for the Saudis was Adel al-Jubeir, who had been sent to Washington to coordinate the Saudis’ efforts to improve their declining image in America. It was apparent that the Saudi initiative was not directed towards Israel but rather to post-9/11 American public opinion, which had been shocked to learn that 15 of the 19 hijackers that attacked New York and Washington were Saudi citizens.

The real problems with the Saudi peace initiative go well beyond the much-discussed issue of the “right of return.” The Saudi plan demands “full withdrawal” from “all the territories” Israel captured 40 years ago in the 1967 Six Day War, thus negating the territorial flexibility contained in UN Security Council Resolution 242 that intentionally did not use this limiting language.

Adopting the Saudi plan as presented would lead to the redivision of Jerusalem. It would also strip Israel of the “defensible borders” that Bush said was Israel’s right in his April 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon. In 2007, with al-Qaida jihadism pouring out of Western Iraq and Iran on the ascendency across the region, these security assurances have only grown in importance.

The assurances contained in the Bush letter are critical for Israel and had constituted the main quid pro quo that Israel had gained for the Gaza disengagement. Yet now the letter seems to have been forgotten. Indeed, there was a glaring contradiction between the Bush administration’s new embrace of the Saudi initiative and the assurances it gave Sharon only three years ago.

Even the peace that the Saudi initiative presents is not what it might seem to be to the uninitiated. It promises “normal relations” with Israel, a Syrian diplomatic term from the 1990s which was intended to be a watered down alternative to European peace implied by the term “normalization” (tatbiyan in Arabic). Nonetheless, the Saudi initiative came to be known as a grand bargain between Israel and the Arab world: full withdrawal for full peace with the Arab world as a whole, even if there are serious questions as to whether that was the Saudis’ real intent.

For even today, as in 2002, peace with Israel is not likely to be at the top of the Saudi agenda. The paramount problem of Saudi Arabia is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite King Abdullah’s strong ideological identification with the Palestinian cause in the past. What is shaping Saudi Arabia’s new diplomatic activism is the rapidly expanding Iranian threat and the weakness of the Western response.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had committed himself to a second Iranian revolution: that means a revival of Iranian efforts to export revolutionary Shi’ism, wherever possible. In some Sunni-dominated countries, like Sudan and Syria, the Iranians hope to convert Sunnis to Shi’ism. In the Gulf, there are already substantial Shi’ite populations. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s main vulnerability is in its oil-rich Eastern Province, which has nearly a majority of Shi’ites.

Neighboring Bahrain, now connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge, has an 80% Shi’ite majority.

The potential for revolutionary subversion is enormous. According to US court documents, already the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers in eastern Saudi Arabia was conducted by Hizballah al-Hijaz, a Shi’ite terrorist group under the direct control of Iranian officials.

What can the West do? It needs to assure its Gulf allies by being more assertive about countering Iranian power. Rice’s instincts to seize the moment of a shared threat that both Israel and the Sunni Arab states perceive are essentially correct, but must be directed in totally different channels.

When Saudi Arabia is facing its own Sunni Islamist threat from within and a Shi’ite threat from without, it is not surprising that the last thing it needs are planeloads of Israeli negotiators and journalists in Riyadh. And with Hamas in power among the Palestinians and building its military strength daily in Gaza, Israel does not need to experiment with new withdrawals. Under such circumstances, quiet contacts between Israel and its neighbors make far more sense than grandiose public diplomacy. In peacemaking, timing is everything.

What would those quiet contacts involve? First, finding ways of building on those Palestinians who are ready to distance themselves from Iran. And if no Palestinian leadership emerges, encouraging Egypt and Jordan to take a more constructive role in eliminating the present chaos by helping counter the growth of terrorist armies that are in the territories.

At present, there are no indications that anything like this is happening. But if Saudi Arabia seeks to present itself as a constructive force, it must use its political and financial clout behind the scenes to neutralize those groups seeking to undermine the stability of the Middle East at present. Only then will it be possible to explore building the foundations of the regional peace that was being spoken about earlier this week.

Dore Gold heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is the author of The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West and the Future of the Holy City. His earlier work, Hatred’s Kingdom, analyzes the growth of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia.


Sliding toward Somalia in Gaza

By Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz, March 27, 2007

The bullet-riddled body – 30 slugs in all – of Arafat Nufal, an officer in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, was found Friday morning hanging from a pole in the Al Moraka district near Gaza. The details of his murder tell the story of the Gaza Strip since the Mecca agreement was signed in early February.

This is the story of how Gaza is becoming a Palestinian Somalia, as Palestinian politicians celebrate the artificial unity deal.

Like the cars of many Palestinian officers, Nufal’s Mitsubishi was stolen two months ago. Since the disengagement, the vehicles of the Palestinian security forces have become all the rage for the car thieves of the Strip, who often sell them to Hamas.

Three weeks ago, Nufal located his car in the hands of Hamas militiamen. He asked them to return his car, but they refused. Then he sent “dignitaries” to talk to them: some of the prominent families’ elders, to no avail.

Two weeks ago, upon seeing his car again, he addressed the driver of the stolen vehicle. An argument ensued, which developed into a gunfight. In the conflagration, Nufal killed one of the men inside his car, Alah al-Khadad, a militant of Hamas’ Iz a Din al-Kassam Brigades.

Friday, his relatives, also active members in the Brigades, killed Nufal to avenge Khadad’s death.

The number of gunfights between Fatah and Hamas loyalists has drastically dropped since the Mecca agreement has been signed, but they still occur. Killings such as Nufal’s have become common.

The Strip is being run by a mixture of bloodshed, retribution killings, poverty, unemployment and violent confrontations over political and family loyalties.

According to human rights group B’Tselem, 36 Palestinians were killed in infighting in February alone. There are still no official figures on killings in March, but seven people were killed in the past weekend.

A UN worker who recently visited the Strip says the situation there has deteriorated. “You see militants every other junction,” he says.

Z., a Fatah leader in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, says that nothing has changed since the creation of the national-unity government. “The abductions, the assassinations, the shooting, everything is still gong on,” he says. “I don’t think things will change even after the new government has had a chance to establish itself.”

Z. told Haaretz he believed the worst was yet to come. “Pretty soon there will be militants in each and every junction. Everybody knows who’s holding Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent kidnapped two weeks ago. It’s a large family, and they’re after money. Instead of surrounding the premises and acting against them, the security forces are negotiating with them,” he complains. “Breaking in their will cost lives, but there’s no alternative. You have to move in with force to restore order.”

What Z. doesn’t say is that all the large organizations, Fatah included, are trying to dissuade the renowned family from joining the rival faction. Foreign journalists who have been kidnapped and then released by the family say they were treated in an especially demeaning manner. They go on to say that the Iraqi influence was obvious in the clothing of their captors, their language and their methods of handling prisoners, including forced conversions to Islam.

While the anarchy and chaos were contained in past years to the ranks of the Fatah and the prominent families, it has now reached the ranks of Hamas as well.

Thursday, Hamas and Fatah officials met in the home of newly appointed Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh to try to reach an agreement toward resolving the conflict. They agreed to create a joint operations room operating around the clock to handle all instances of violence.

Shortly after the meeting, Hamas militia men broke into the home of a prominent Fatah operative, killing a 2-year-old child. The assault was opposed by both the military and political leadership of the organization.

Security officials say internal groups within Hamas are working independently to ensure the interests of Hamas leaders who have had to step aside following the power-sharing agreement. The wounding of an Israeli Electric Corporation employee has been another result of the in-fighting within Hamas.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived yesterday to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in a second visit to Ramallah. He was followed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived for yet another of her numerous visits.

It was the less-versed visitor who spoke also of the Authority’s commitment to restore order in the Palestinian street. Perhaps Rice, his experienced partner, understands that even a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world is a more realistic prospect than the restoration of peace to the streets of Gaza.


The Region: The fall of Fatah

Barry Rubin


Almost exactly 40 years ago, the nationalist group Fatah took over the Palestinian movement. That long reign ended last week when Fatah accepted a junior partnership to Hamas in the Palestinian Authority (PA). The rise and fall of Fatah is one of the greatest political failures in history, though mixed with certain elements of success.

Certainly, Fatah made the Palestinian issue a global one, accumulating international support, or at least sympathy. Yet the disastrous leadership of Yasser Arafat also led the group down the path of terrorism, extremism and intransigence. Almost a half-century since its founding, it has achieved no state and brought no material benefit to the people it purported to represent.

While Fatah’s decline was already visible, the clear turning point was its defeat by Hamas in the January 2006 election. Neither the establishment of its own regime, the PA, which ruled over almost all the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or billions of dollars in international aid (dissipated in corruption and incompetence); the patronage of the US, or even Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the turning over to it of the Gaza-Egypt border was enough for Fatah to save itself.

WHY DID this happen? That is a very long and complex story. But four factors stand out, most of which still prevail in the movement as a whole.

First, there has been the extremism of its goal of seeking the defeat and destruction of Israel rather than ending the conflict with the achievement of a West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state. Even though there are Fatah members today who prefer a compromise solution, they are in a minority and do not battle for the real acceptance of their views in that group.

Fatah has never articulated among its own people – and does not articulate today – an alternative vision of peaceful coexistence and the return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian state.

Second has been the extremism of its methods, the deliberate use of terrorism to mobilize Palestinians emotionally and frighten Israel into surrender. Terrorism has always been a central strategy for the organization, and it has had a corrupting role in both moral and political terms.

Third was the leadership of Arafat, a man of the utmost capabilities and limitations. Arafat deliberately avoided institutionalization, courted anarchy and promoted corruption.

After his death, as a consequence, neither Fatah nor the PLO or PA, all of which he ruled, had an organized hierarchy or an effective decision-making apparatus. Arafat’s replacement, if one can call him that, is Mahmoud Abbas, a man who has some moderate sentiments but is weak, ineffective, and an advocate of most of Fatah’s traditional program.

The actual head of Fatah is Farouk Kaddoumi, a man who rejected even the peace process of the 1990s. His popularity reflects the basic politics of Fatah.

FINALLY, there is the sheer hubris of Fatah, a group which provided little in the way of benefits or services to its own people, yet assumed it would always enjoy their support. At a conference shortly before the January 2006 elections, after I gave a devastating list of reasons as to why Hamas would win, Fatah’s campaign manager, one of the most moderate people in the group, stated, “The people will vote for [Fatah] and everything will be all right.”

The election defeat was made far worse by the rampant factionalism in Fatah, so that multiple candidates ran against each other, splitting the vote and increasing Hamas’s margin of victory.

In the 15 months since then Fatah has not made a single real reform or any effort to combat its rampant corruption, or brought younger dissidents into the leadership. Nor has it articulated an alternative to the Hamas position, but simply tried to compete with it in proving how militant and willing to use violence Fatah can be. This is a losing strategy.

Last week, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas, brokered by the Saudis, was implemented. Fatah has accepted a junior partnership with its Islamist rival on terms which reflect much of Fatah’s world view but are very different from the moderate image the group wants to build in the West.

THE NEW coalition does not accept all the agreements made in the past peace processes, including those that provide the basis for the PA’s own existence and the international aid it receives. The new government rejects Israel’s existence or a compromise solution and, on a daily basis, continues to embrace terrorism. Here are three quick examples:

Last June, Hamas forces openly participated in, and its leadership endorsed, a cross-border raid in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was kidnapped and is still being held. The PA did not condemn the attack, punish the perpetrators or free the soldier.

Every day, rockets are fired at Israeli civilian targets by forces allied to Hamas who are not condemned, stopped or punished by the PA. On March 19, a Hamas sniper in the Gaza Strip shot and wounded an Israeli electric company worker inside Israel. These are all acts of war or terrorism condoned or even carried out by the PA’s ruling party.

Nor has even the Hamas-Fatah coalition stopped the anarchy and bloodshed by both sides within Gaza. On March 21, for example, Hamas gunmen surrounded the home of a Fatah militia leader and fired anti-tank missiles into the house. Still another wave of mutual kidnappings followed. So far, five people have been killed, including a two-year-old boy.

The mistakes made under the decades-long leadership of Fatah are continuing, and even intensifying, in the new Hamas era. The result is that any possibility of peace is being pushed decades further away.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya. His latest book, The Truth About Syria, is being published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May.


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