'RUNNING AFTER A CHIMERIC MIRAGE':PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL SPEAKS ON THE ARAB-ISRAELI DISPUTE
HRH Prince Turki, the former head of the Saudi Arabia's security services (1977 to 2001), Ambassador to the UK (2002-2005) and the US (2005-2006), currently an instructor at his alma mater Georgetown (one of his classmates was William Jefferson Clinton), gave a talk to a group of us at an event sponsored by New York University's Center for Global Affairs. Among other things the Prince who by virtue of his being the younger brother of the Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, and, the nephew of King Abdullah is close to the centers of power in Riyadh, told us that the primacy of the Arab-Israeli dispute is unquestionable and cannot be overestimated. Indeed according to the Prince the failure of the Western Powers to settle the conflict has lead the area into: 'the dark tunnel of conflict'. According to the Prince, there is an overwhelming need and necessity to end the conflict and with it the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. As per the Gaza War of earlier this year, the Prince repeated several times that it was in terms of Near Eastern public opinion, a debacle of the highest order. With the overall impression being given to the latter that Israel is completely intransigent and unwilling to commit to a serious exploration of the peace process. According to the Prince, Israel is: 'afraid of peace'.
Delving back into some recent history, the Prince claimed that it was the Israeli failure to live up to the promises of the Oslo peace process which resulted in the Second Intifada of 2000-2004. The entire process revealing that Israel has consistently failed to reconcile itself to a compromise of its security needs with basic Palestinian desiderata. With whatever peace proclamations made by Israeli politicians belied by their actions on the ground in expanding settlements from 1994 to 2000. Especially under the Labour Governments of Peres and Barak. On the Palestinian side, the Prince stated that the Second Intifada's reliance on force was: "strategic mistake", and, that the Palestinians should have kept to the primarily peaceful tactics of the First Intifada. A point of view which he still maintains as he accused the Hamas Government in the Gaza Strip of committing "a crime against the Palestinians", by using rockets against Israeli towns in Southern Israel. In terms of recent moves towards peace talks, the Prince stated that "I am not an optimist", and, that in the absence of clear and overwhelming American pressure (what he whimsically characterized as 'the big bear') on all the parties to the conflict for a peace settlement, then nothing of a positive nature would occur. And, that any recent hopes and expectations raised by the new American Administration would be capsized by the failure to follow up words with action.
The overall impression that the evening left one with was that time is running out for the Americans to re-start the peace process and to positively reshape the extremely negative impressions left the the Bush regime's non-policy (at best) towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the region. As the Prince noted, it was due to the negative treatment of PA President Mahmoud Abbas by both the Sharon government as well as the Bush regime, which had the end-result of enormously increasing Hamas' popularity, both in the Palestinian territories as well as the Near East as a whole. Much the same can be said for the recent popularity of recent years of Hezbollah and Persia by the predominately Sunni Arab opinion: it is simply that all three parties give evidence of being utterly resistant to Israel power and its American backers. Something that no one would say of Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Something has to give diplomatically, and soon perhaps. And, one fears that the administration of the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name is merely playacting at peacemaking.