Saudi Arabia has thoroughly rejected appeals by U.S. President Barack Obama that the Arab world make modest gestures to Israel to show it is interested in advancing a regional peace that would include the establishment of a Palestinian Authority state within Israel’s current borders.
"The question is not what the Arab world will offer," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. "The question really is: What will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive offer?"
The Saudi rebuff, which also ignored an appeal by more than 200 members of Congress for “gestures” towards Israel, leaves President Obama with little room for maneuvering after his two-month-old demand that Israel freeze all building for Jews in eastern Jerusalem as well as in Judea and Samaria fell on deaf ears in Israel. American media and the Jewish community increasingly have criticized President Obama for going too far in trying to pressure Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and a close ally of the United States.
Prince Saud sidestepped a question from a reporter who asked what Saudi Arabia would do if Israel were to agree to a freeze on building, as the U.S. has demanded. He charged that Israel is "trying to distract attention from the core issue" of creating a new PA state.
“This is not the way to peace," he said, warning that Israel may face a future of more “instability and violence."
He reiterated demands for a “comprehensive approach.” which would include full acceptance of the Saudi Arabia 2002 initiative. It calls for Israel to surrender all of the land restored to the Jewish state in the Six-Day War in 1967, including the Old City in Jerusalem and several residential neighborhoods in the capital that are home to approximately 300,000 Jews. The plan also demands that Israel allow the immigration of five million foreign Arabs who claim to have ancestry in Israel.
Israel for the past several years has continually granted concessions to the PA while allowing the U.S. to change its Roadmap peace plan and skip over steps for an interim PA state, pending moves to halt violent and incitement.
Reporters covering the State Department have noted that the U.S. in effect has been a proxy negotiator for the PA over a future state. In an attempt to change the focus from Israel to the PA, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said at the Friday news briefing in Washington that the PA has a “responsibility to promote the peace process and return to negotiation.”
Following recent comments by American officials that indicated a more moderate tone towards Israel, Crowley added, “There’s this perception that we’re leaning in one direction and not others. We’re leaning in all directions.” One reporter drew laughter from colleagues when he responded, “Is that physically possible?”