Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah recently sent a diplomatic emissary to US President George Bush carrying an angry letter objecting to US reluctance to take serious steps against the Israeli attack on the Palestinian people. Media sources reported that Bush (Senior) responded quickly, phoning Abdullah to assure him that the US would prevent any full scale attack on the Palestinian Occupied Territories or attempt to overthrow the Palestinian Authority and President Yasser Arafat, a favorable, albeit insufficient, reaction.
The Saudi move follows Abdullah’s public expression of disapproval concerning US pro-Israeli bias. Abdullah’s comments have apparently influenced US Secretary of State Colin Powell to partially condemn some Israeli actions against Palestinians, one of the harshest US reactions to date from the fledgling Bush administration. The significance of Abdullah’s actions are clear-a well-planned Arab political move can be highly effective in influencing the course of US foreign policy. Abdullah’s call for the U.S. administration to support its own initiatives, specifically former President Ronald Reagan’s Republican supported “land for peace” formula, scored resounding success with the Bush administration.
There are two types of Arab Countries which are able to maintain good relations with the US due to the strategic and economic nature of their relationship with the US. There are those countries who are dependent on the US for financial aid, economic support and military protection, while states with key resources such as gas, oil or major markets for US products exert influence on the US.
Countries like Jordan, in the former category, have a gentlemanly relationship with the US, which listens politely to the nation’s needs and desires but has little reason to consider them pressing. The Gulf countries, on the other hand, through their production of oil and gas and annual weapons purchases, which amount to hundreds of millions of USDollars annually, should be able to impact policy to a far greater degree.
The actions required from these states, in the latter category, are clear. Israel, with no important natural resources, uses every weapon in its political arsenal to affect American policy and decisions in its favor. Arab states, on the other hand, do not seem to able to invest their great wealth of assets in creating pressure for the pursuit of justice, implementation of U.N resolutions, and international diplomatic initiatives.
The Saudi government‘s action should act as a model for further Arab action:
First: Other Arab states should emulate the Saudi action and carry out similarly effective political strategies to influence US policy. Abdullah did not threaten, but instead expressed his political disapproval, with the inherent implication of the importance of Saudi oil and the consequent potential damage an eruption of violence could cause.
Widespread use of such methods would soon lead to major changes, but it is important that Arab states organize effectively. An essential step is a political meeting of Arab oil producing states in order to define a unified plan to influence US and Western policy. A new approach among the OPEC countries is of critical importance. Other oil producing countries such as Iran, Nigeria, and Venezuela which support Palestinians should also be included.
Such Arab unity is of crucial importance during the continuing deterioration of the middle east situation. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s US support has allowed him to continue implementing illegal military and political actions with impunity. Israel continues to implement aspects of a comprehensive military plan to end Palestinian resistance to territorial annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Goal and the Sheba Farms area, while publicly denying its existence. Daily lethal attacks and assassination of Palestinians in the occupied territories, destruction of their homes, crops and land and attacks from militarily supported armed settler groups form the basis of Sharon’s terrorist strategy. Israel’s western diplomatic support is so great, however, that Sharon, infamous for his war crimes in Lebanon, is able to avoid international action simply by claiming that no such plan exists.
Recent statements by Sharon demonstrate his unwillingness to pursue a negotiated settlement. Sharon reassured a delegation of visiting delegation of American Jews that the land of Israel, is “the Jewish homeland”, and that Israel would continue to build settlements wherever it chose. Sharon later informed the Pope that Palestine is the Jewish “promised land”.
It should be clear to Arab leaders that in absence of unified opposition, Sharon may be free to pursue the Israeli dream of establishing a state from the Nile to the Euphrates.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.