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Ehud and the Saudi Plan By: Joseph Puder
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

As Tzipi Livni, the newly elected chairwoman of the Kadima Party, labored to form a coalition government with the Sephardic religious party “Shas” under pressure of a 42-day limit, the “peace” talks between Israel and the Palestinians (Mahmoud Abbas) went nowhere. Shas demanded 800 million Shekel in subsidies for large families. In addition, Shas wanted guarantees from Livni that Jerusalem will not be part of the negotiations with the Palestinians.


With the core issues of Jerusalem and refugees remaining irresolvable between the Palestinians and Israel, and Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator pulling out his negotiating team from talks with Israel through Turkish mediators, the peace prospects in the region are non-existent. At the same time, the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah-Hamas axis has made significant strategic gains.


Aware of the impasse in the peace negotiations, Israel’s former Labor Prime Minister (1999-2001) and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak proposed this week the resurrection of the Saudi Peace Plan as part of the Livni government political platform. The Saudi Peace Plan was released at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, conceived under U.S. pressure in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on America. The Saudi plan calls for total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights, East Jerusalem (and the Jewish Quarter), and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in exchange for full diplomatic relations with the Arab States.


Barak has no problems with a total Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 borders, the late Abba Eban (Israel’s chief diplomat and Foreign Minister) called “the Auschwitz boundaries.” In fairness, Barak proposed to present an Israeli Peace Plan as a modification of the Saudi Plan, taking the Saudi proposals as its basis. To most Israelis however, the Saudi Plan is dead and buried, and Saudi influence along with that of Egypt among the Palestinians is declining.


The prospects of general elections in Israel in the foreseeable future are high, and polls indicate a sweeping Likud victory that would make Barak’s archrival Benjamin Netanyahu Israel’s next Prime Minister. To bolster his credentials, Barak is attempting to create momentum for a new policy initiative that would distract from the disastrous policies and conduct of the discredited Ehud Olmert/Kadima government.


Barak is trying at the same time to direct attention to Israel’s most sensitive existential problem: how to address the Iranian threat? Barak believes that Israel must work with the moderate Arab (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) states that share Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the growing influence and control of its proxies Syria and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And while it is true that the Saudis are in a bitter struggle with Iran over influence on Lebanon, and Gaza, and the Gulf, the Saudi side does not appear eager to cooperate with Israel.


In Lebanon at the moment, Syrian forces are concentrated along Lebanon’s borders, poised to attack the Saudi supported Sunni-Muslim militias in Northern Lebanon led by Saad Hariri whose father Rafiq was murdered by Syrian operatives.


Saad Hariri was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and upon the death of his father, he returned to Lebanon to lead the Future (Sunni Muslim) Movement, his father created. It is the largest Sunni Muslim party and part of the pro-Western group in Lebanon, seeking to develop a democratic state. Iran has gained political influence in Beirut in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah, which many considered a victory for Hezbollah, a cat’s paw for Tehran.


Syria is interested in reasserting it position in Lebanon after being pressured by the West to withdraw its forces in April 2005. Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, the Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah militia, are supporting the Syrians. According to intelligence sources, a boiling point is fast approaching for another war in Lebanon, this time between Tehran and Riyadh through their proxies.


Ehud Barak might be thinking that the convergence of interests between Israel and the Saudis in Lebanon might lead to the resurrection of a modified and more easily acceptable Saudi plan. But given Israel’s lackluster performance in the 2006 war in Lebanon, and Barak’s own order for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel’s ability to influence the outcome of war between the pro-Western militias and Syria and the Hezbollah, is suspect.


More troubling, Israel’s failure to stop Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb, has clearly given the upper hand to the Iran/Syria-Hezbollah/Hamas axis.

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