NEW YORK (Jun. 6)
Optimistic statements about the prospect of peace with Israel, made last week by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Salam al-Majali, represent a positive change in attitude, according to Israeli officials.
In a lengthy and wide-ranging message to 2 million Moslem pilgrims who came to Mecca last week for the annual Feast of the Sacrifice, King Fahd spoke about the inevitability and benefits of peace with Israel.
Despite the failure of nine rounds of bilateral talks to produce concrete results, Fahd said that “the continuation of the dialogue indicates a mutual agreement that there is no alternative to peace and that there must be serious, realistic efforts to achieve this just demand for all.”
Majali went further, saying: “I’m optimistic in regard to the possibility of achieving a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan before I end my term as the temporary prime minister of Jordan.” His term is scheduled to expire in November.
Jordan has been negotiating with Israel in the bilateral talks in Washington, which are expected to resume later this month. Saudi Arabia is participating in the multilateral talks, concerning regional issues, which are also part of the process launched in Madrid in the fall of 1991.
These two statements, said an Israeli official, “demonstrate an important shift within some quarters of the Arab world, where peace with Israel is no longer a dirty word. It even shows a certain desire or yearning for this, an under-standing that peace has more advantages for the interest of those countries.”
King Fahd’s remarks, said the official, are particularly significant, coming on the occasion of the religious pilgrimage. But the official also cautioned that the remarks themselves “are definitely not a breakthrough.”
In his remarks, Fahd said Saudi Arabia would support any effort that “contributes to ending the state of war and enabling the region to invest all its resources and abilities in construction, growth and comprehensive development, offering all the people of the region prosperity after years of bitter war and successive losses amid slogans that have cost us much and achieved nothing.”
Fahd’s remarks were not free from traditional attacks on Israeli positions: He placed the onus for the slow pace of the talks on the Israelis and spoke of the priority of “the rights of the Palestinian people.”
NOT ENOUGH, BUT A ‘START’
But at the same time, he acknowledged the need for “security and peace for all.”
“The facts of history prove that conflicts and wars achieve no victory and produce no gains,” said the king.
“The Israelis must be convinced that the policy of expansion is no longer acceptable to the international community, and that the security guarantees it used to demand continuously cannot be achieved by ignoring the rights of the Palestinian people and continuing hegemony, tyranny and the occupation of the land, but by peaceful coexistence between neighboring states and peoples.”
Tom Smerling, director of Project Nishma, a Jewish organization that conducts programs on security and peace and is supportive of the current peace process, said the statements by Fahd and Majali appear to reflect changes under way in the Arab world.
“There has been some change in the way a number of Arab governments talk about Israel and talk about peace,” he said. “Clearly, rhetoric isn’t enough, but this is where you have to start.
“We’ve often said peace is impossible until the Arabs moderate their rhetoric; this suggests that they’re doing so, though unfortunately they’re continuing to make many hostile statements.”