Friday, January 23, 2009

Leading Arab unity

SOMETIMES great leaders demonstrate their ability to control a situation or ease the effects of a tragedy through an emotional speech or a well-timed and courageous decision that is unexpected but welcomed by his people.

Words, followed by a strong, decisive act, creates the biggest impression and makes an impact felt worldwide. There’s been a lot of rhetoric lately about Israel’s invasion of Gaza and the resulting deaths of more than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and the rubble made of their homes and businesses.

Yet this rhetoric – whether coming from world leaders or media commentators or the ubiquitous bloggers who have much to say but know little about the events on the ground – means little to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians suffering at the hands of an invading army.Saudis have always believed since the Crown Prince Abdullah became King in the summer of 2005 that he would achieve great things.

We have witnessed it with his open attitude towards women’s rights, the new projects to make Makkah and Madina the source of pride of every living Muslim around the world, and his desire to wean ourselves from oil revenue to create the six economic cities and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

This man has no fear of bringing in the best minds, no matter what their background or religion, from around the world to make Saudi Arabia a leader in technology.What Muslim leader can we name that has had an audience with the Pope? What Muslim leader can we name that has organized a religious inter-faith conference in an effort to bring peace between Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other religions?

Now, in what many of us consider the darkest days Arabs have faced since the worst fighting in Iraq, King Abdullah, in a decisive and bold move, has pledged $1 billion this week towards the reconstruction of Gaza.Kuwait has followed with a $34 million donation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The United Arab Emirates, which last year donated $280 million to the Palestinians, will now launch another aid project to build 1,300 homes in Gaza after the destruction caused by the Israelis.But there are two sides to the coin. With his generosity to the Palestinians, King Abdullah has a warning for the Israelis: Our patience is wearing thin and the 2002 Arab peace plan that guarantees peace if Israel returns to its 1967 borders will not remain on the table forever.

The Arab peace plan has gained currency over the past two years and even the Israelis have warmed up to the idea but have not acted or taken negotiations any further. Regrettably, rather than sit at the negotiations table with Arab leaders to hammer out a peace agreement, it chooses a full-scale assault on the Palestinian civilian population over the regrettable and ill-advised behavior of Hamas.

King Abdullah, in his wisdom, is laying out before the Israelis what everyone is sensing. Time is running out and the ability to settle once and for all the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, either through a two-state solution or some other means, is reaching a crisis point. If there ever was an event that creates a breaking point between lasting peace and more decades of violence, the Gaza invasion is it.

“Israel must understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not remain there indefinitely,” King Abdullah told attendees at the Arab economic summit in Kuwait City.

But equally important to the Ummah in general and to Arabs in particular is that this historic event brings unity in the Arab world long beset by divisions. Especially telling in this new unity is the talks held between King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was also attended by the leaders of Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan.The Arab League Summit, I believe, will usher in a new era of hope.

If the Israelis accomplished anything with its invasion, it united Arab leaders to act boldly to finally put pressure on the Israelis to behave responsibly and in a controlled response to Hamas’ sporadic rocket attacks.

We have witnessed the dismal failure of the United States’ performance in achieving peace in the Middle East, and it has obviously been left to us to pick up the pieces. I have high hopes that the new US president will demonstrate the wherewithal to achieve peace than the previous administration, but at the end of the day it will be left to Arab leaders to find the solution.


Bill said...

An excellent post Sabria and an important one with themes that should be developed.

I too believe that King Abdullah is a wise and decent man with vision and the way he has been depicted in the West over the years is a disgrace.

What has also repeatedly been ignored is the work that Saudis have done - and are continuing to do - against extremists in their own country and beyond. Many decent Saudi people have made great scarifices – including paying with their lives in some cases - in the fight.

But this gruelling battle over many years is scarcely even mentioned by Western media, let alone applauded. I am not surprised that Saudis are at patience end.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly laziness on the part of Western journalists who prefer to make great play of comments by obscure fringe extremists rather than look at the wider issues and positive attitudes in the kingdom.

But another part of the problem lies with the Saudis – and Arabs in general – who have not done a good job of harnessing the power of the media, particularly new media, to get their voices out there.

You are obviously an exception and I congratulate you on your thoughtful and entertaining blog.

Anonymous said...

a good article and thoughtful.keep it up.