Saudi Arabia's overture

Mideast peace: A proposal by Crown Prince Abdullah poses opportunities and challenges for all.

February 28, 2002

IT'S A LONG SHOT. But it's the best shot the Israelis and Palestinians have right now.

A new peace initiative put forth by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is offering a potential respite from the diplomatic stalemate in the Mideast conflict and the intractable violence consuming the warring neighbors. The conversation now must be about how to capitalize on Crown Prince Abdullah's offer to normalize relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from land it occupied after the 1967 war with the Arabs. And that conversation is taking place in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The crown prince's offer marks a departure for the kingdom: The Saudis have refused to insert themselves in the peacemaking process of the past decade. But given the predominant role of Saudi nationals in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he may well be trying to repair his country's image.

Whatever the reason, his proposal - he calls it a vision - has forced the major parties to respond, and his decision to speak out now should be applauded for that reason. But make no mistake, the hard work of delivering a lasting peace remains solely with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, President Bush has to do more than make congratulatory telephone calls to Riyadh. He must prod Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has never accepted the 1967 borders for the Jewish state, to rethink his boundaries and his conditions for resuming talks beyond the security meetings now underway.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom Israel has barred from freely traveling, needs to do whatever it takes to ensure that he can attend the Arab summit next month in Beirut. That means convincing militants in his nationalist camp to adhere to a cease-fire. It also means coming clean on his knowledge of an Iranian-backed arms shipment that Israeli commandos seized in January.

As for Crown Prince Abdullah, it is incumbent upon him at the Beirut summit to take a leadership role in recognizing Israel's rights in this process and in giving Mr. Arafat the support he will need to make the tough choices when the two sides next meet.

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