Saudi prince: No Sadat-style visit expected from King Abdullah

Turki al-Faisal says his uncle is serious about achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

turki al faisal 224.88 (photo credit: AP {file])
turki al faisal 224.88
(photo credit: AP {file])
Saudi Arabian prince Turki al-Faisal says King Abdullah is serious about achieving peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians - but ruled out the possibility that his uncle would follow in the footsteps of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and make a trip to Jerusalem. Turki, who spoke Tuesday night in New York at a public question-and-answer session with New York University professor Alon Ben-Meir, said he believed successive Israeli governments had been too disrespectful toward Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to expect any other Arab leaders to engage with them directly. "King Abdullah is not going to go to Jerusalem and face the possibility of being treated like Mr. Abbas has been treated," Turki responded after Ben-Meir asked him whether Abdullah would consider the "revolutionary" move of appealing in person to the Knesset, and the Israeli public, for peace. The exchange, during which Ben-Meir insisted Sadat's 1977 visit "changed Israeli public opinion overnight," followed an hour of debate between the two men over the fate of the Arab peace initiative, which was proposed by Abdullah in 2002. The Saudi proposal would offer normalization of Arab relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and offers a "just resolution" to the question of Palestinian refugees. The Arab League has amended the proposal to allow for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, a key sticking point for Israeli negotiators. President Shimon Peres, who appeared in November at a Saudi-backed UN interfaith conference, nonetheless said the Saudi initiative provided a starting point for negotiations. But Turki, Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to the US and a longtime head of the country's intelligence services, said Tuesday that the subsequent war in Gaza had fundamentally changed the political reality confronting negotiators. Talking about peace now, he said, "is like running after a shimmering mirage." He said he held Hamas responsible for provoking war, calling the continued rocket attacks "criminal," but said he believed Israel "is not serious in her quest for peace" and accused a series of governments of bogging down negotiations in side issues to delay any final status negotiations. "We are now in an endless tit for tat, whose victim, along with those who lose their lives, is peace itself," Turki said. Turki called on President Obama to make the daring political move by deciding what outcome he wanted to see on the ground and then going to each "interested nation" - not just Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but also to the Egypt and the Syria - to make his demands, rather than waiting for Arab and Israeli leaders to make their appeals to him. "Once your president has done that, who could say no to him?" Turki asked. He added that Arab leaders needed the US to be "a big bear" chasing them - in other words, a figure they could hold responsible for decisions their publics may not like. "This is what was missing these past eight years, under Bush," Turki said.