As if that was news? From Missing Links
The worse things get in the Middle East, the more it seems English language analysis begins and ends with the realization of the important fact that Bush is an ignorant bully. Unfortunately this often lends itself to melodrama, in the sense that other Mideast actors are assigned only secondary roles, with less than three-dimentional characters. And an incomplete and cartoon-like representation of the players lends itself to further public-relations manipulation. An example: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia referred to the American occupation of Iraq as “illegal” (or “illegitimate”) in his opening speech at the Riyadh summit, and this clearly took the American administration by surprise. Since American public opinion had been convinced for a long time that Abdullah was another poodle, this seemed to be little short of a rebellion on the farm. Certaintly it was another manifestation of American policy gone haywire. One part of the PR response from Washington has been to stress that “No, Abdullah has long been impatient with the Bush’s lack of action on Palestine; he brought pictures with him to Crawford; he almost walked out until Bush promised to do something; and so on.” And the other part is that Abdullah is still on board with the idea of “resolv[ing] the Palestinian issue so they can turn the region’s attention to combatting the threat from Iran.” In other words, the new spin on Abdullah is that his impatience over the inhumanity of Palestine finally boiled over and he lashed out, in the context of the more-urgent need to get that out of the way so as to combat the threat from Iran. In this way, one cartoon-version of Abdullah, the rebellious poodle, is in the process of being replaced by another, Abdullah the angry humanitarian, cornered.
It is true that what boiled over was the Saudi realization that their regional influence was under threat not only from Iran, but now increasingly from Iraq too. The reference to an illegitimate occupation of Iraq was really an attack on an illegitimate regime, and for Abdullah a threatening regime, in Iraq, sponsored by his supposed ally Bush. It had just recently become clear that the Allawi-American scheme for creation of an alternate, and more Sunni-friendly Green-Zone regime was being discontinued. If there was any one development that pushed Abdullah into using unexpectedly harsh language, that was probably it.
It is true that the feeling of growing threat from Iran and Iraq has changed the Saudi perspective. The Saudi regime now feels an urgent need for local allies, and given the lack of Arab leadership elsewhere (meaning Egypt), this means taking on the missing Arab-leadership role itself, and that in turn means: Promoting action, or at least apparent action, on Palestine. The Saudis are hoping not only for good PR on the Arab street, but also for an end to their feud with Bashar Assad’s administration in Syria, weaning Syria away from Iran and back into the Arab fold (and similarly of course with Hamas). While it isn’t clear how the proposed Palestinian negotiations will relate to the possible Syria-Israel talks on Golan and other issues, at least the Saudi-Syrian relationship is friendlier than it has recently been (the two having in effect taken opposite sides in the Israel-Hizbullah war). And this is additionally important because Syria and Saudi Arabia have been rivals for influence in Lebanon. What the Saudis are looking for is authority and problem-solving influence in all of these areas. This is not the same as “turn[ing] the region’s attention to combatting the threat from Iran”.
Condoleeza Rice also wants action, or at least apparent action, on Palestine, so on that point Condoleeza and Abdullah are in apparent agreement. However, this is a question of incremental steps, and the first incremental step that Condoleeza is looking for is gradual de facto recognition of Israel by the Arab regimes in the region generally, so that in any eventual war with Iran, America can be seen as simultaneously on the side of its traditional Arab allies, and on the side of Israel, at the same time. That accounts for the importance of this question of Arab-Israel diplomatic recognition as a first step. The first incremental step for Abdullah is quite different: It is the closing of ranks in the Arab world including Syria and including also Hamas, in order to split both of them from their Iranian relationships and bring them back into the Arab fold. Recognition or otherwise of Israel has nothing to do with it, except in relation to a Palestinian settlement.
Read the rest here.