Washington Watch: The Saudis are ready for peace - right after pigs fly

Washington Watch The Sa

Had the United States not turned back Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, it's likely he would have marched into Saudi Arabia. The Saudis essentially sat back and watched the American-led forces protect and defend their enormous wealth, basking in the protection before and since of the American nuclear umbrella. The billions they've spent on the latest weapons we have made them no less dependent on our protection; they were unable to stand up to Saddam in 1990, and today, after historic arms buying sprees, they are unable to defend themselves against their cross-Gulf rivals in Iran. A senior Saudi prince once told an American defense secretary, "You're just a salesman and we pay cash." That sounded a lot like shut up and do as you're told, because the customer is always right. After so many years of American presidents of both parties kowtowing to the Riyadh royals who by accident of geology sit on great lakes of oil, it is no wonder they have such high regard for themselves and such low esteem for the US. THAT WAS in full display on the op-ed page of Sunday's New York Times in an article by Turki al-Faisal, the former ambassador to Washington. His message was clear: Despite Saudi talk about wanting peace, we shouldn't take them so literally. The 2002 Saudi peace proposal was essentially an ultimatum, he confirmed, noting that until all demands are met, there will be no talking to Israel. As "the world's energy superpower and the de facto leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds," Saudi Arabia "holds itself to higher standards of justice and law," he said. Thus the Saudis refuse to engage Israel until it "ends its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights" - and here he takes up the agenda of Hizbullah - "Shaba Farms in Lebanon." Until these and other Saudi demands are met, he insists, any steps toward normalization "would undermine international law and turn a blind eye to immorality." This piety comes from a man who for 25 years headed one of the most brutal security forces in the world on behalf of a corrupt and autocratic monarchy which tolerates slavery, has been condemned for human trafficking, enforces and teaches and preaches religious bigotry, suppresses the rights of women. It is a country where homosexuality is subject to the death penalty and thieves have their hands cut off. Saudi respect for human rights is like a bracha(blessing) for kosher pork on Yom Kippur. No one will know how much money and other support Turki helped deliver to the PLO, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups. He has admitted meeting repeatedly with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, but says that stopped after September 11, 2001. And don't forget that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were, like bin Laden, Saudis. Anyone except possibly a fund-raiser for Human Rights Watch will attest that the kingdom is a serial abuser of human rights with no right to lecture anyone on the subject, particularly Israel. Israel's human rights record is by no means perfect, it just tends to look that way next to Saudi Arabia's. In fact, Israeli Arabs have dramatically greater freedom in Israel than Saudis do in their own country. MALCOLM SMART, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said recently that in the name of fighting terrorism, the kingdom has undertaken "severe repression of all forms of dissent" to the point where "there is now an almost complete lack of protection of freedoms and human rights." Turki rejected calls by President Barack Obama, the crown prince of Bahrain and others for "greater communication with Israel" by Arab states and moves to revive the peace process. Instead he insisted on adopting the all-or-nothing Saudi 2002 initiative and offered his own formula for peace: In Turki's view there could be no talks with Israel until it meets all Saudi demands. Step one would be "immediate removal of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank." Simultaneously "the international community must pressure Israel to relinquish its grip on all Arab territory." It is not clear whether he refers only to that land captured in 67 or more. He dismisses criticism of the Hamas charter calling for destruction of Israel as "outdated," although Hamas, which the Saudis help finance, insists its position is unchanged. Turki said Obama's Cairo speech "heightened expectations" in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and his call for an Israeli settlement freeze was "a welcome development." But he also seems to be telling the president to keep the pressure on Israel and don't call for Saudi help until you can deliver 100 percent of our demands. Until then any normalization with Israel amounts to a reward for the "theft" of Arab land, and we won't do that, he wrote. Also this weekend, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, rebuffed a bipartisan plea from more than 220 members of Congress for the Saudi king to "assert a strong leadership role" by making "a dramatic gesture toward Israel." He rejected all "incremental" moves in favor of a "final settlement" approach as proposed by his government. In another recent article, this one in Foreign Policy, Turki accused Obama of "demagoguery" in advocating energy independence and said such calls are "political posturing at its worse" and aimed at demonizing his country. A number of years ago a pro-Western Arab ambassador told me that every Arab country may make peace with Israel some day, but never the Saudis. If Turki's latest outpourings are any indication, that is truer than ever.