Saudi Ambassador Responds to July 31 Congressional Letter to King Abdullah on Peace in the Middle East

September 13, 2009

I have the honor of responding to the letter you co-signed addressed to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, dated July 31, 2009, in which you noted the Arab Peace Initiative and encouraged the Kingdom to make a dramatic gesture toward Israel.

I wish, at the outset, to thank you for your interest in peace between the Arab countries and Israel and emphasize that the Kingdom shares your goal.  Over the years, Saudi Arabia has taken clear positions that attest to its desire to see this long-standing conflict resolved equitably and permanently.

The basis for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict is clear.  It has been enshrined in numerous international resolutions, and highlighted in virtually every peace conference convened over the past three decades.  Essentially, it centers on Israel ending its occupation of the territories taken in 1967, including Jerusalem, establishing an independent Palestinian state, and providing for a just settlement for Palestinian refugees.  In exchange, Israel shall receive full recognition, a formal end to the conflict, peace, security and normal relations with all Arab countries.

The Arab countries accepted this formula as a basis for a settlement when they unanimously adopted the Arab Peace Initiative at the Beirut Summit in 2002.  This bold and historic initiative was also adopted by the Islamic countries at the Makkah Summit in December 2005, and reiterated by the Arab League at subsequent Arab Summits, including, most recently, at the 2009 Doha Summit.  Israel has not.  Nor has Israel accepted the principle that it must end its occupation of all Arab territories.  Instead, it continues to seek to divert attention from the heart of the matter – a permanent and just peace that ends the occupation that began in 1967 – and to focus on tertiary issues.  Further, Israel continues to build settlements in defiance of international law and to strengthen its hold on the Palestinian Territories, when it should understand, as then-Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz stated in his address to the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, that “peace and the retention of occupied Arab territories are incompatible and impossible to reconcile or achieve.”

With regard to confidence-building measures, gestures and a step-by-step approach to the peace process, I would like to reiterate the view articulated by the Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, that such an approach is unlikely to achieve success.  It has not succeeded over the past three decades, and, we believe, will not today.  The history and track-record of such an approach is clear, as the following examples illustrate:

  1. In 1979, the Camp David Accords were signed between Egypt and Israel.  At the time, there were approximately 5,000 Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories.  Then-Prime Minister Begin agreed to a moratorium on settlements.
     
  2. In 1991, when the Madrid Peace Conference was convened, the number of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian Territories exceeded 100,000.  At the conference, bilateral talks were launched between Israel and its neighbors – Jordan, the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.  Subsequently, multilateral talks were initiated in a number of areas involving most of the regional countries, including the Kingdom, as a means to promote confidence.  After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the GCC countries lifted their secondary and tertiary boycott of Israel, and contacts between Israel and a number of Arab countries were initiated or intensified to further build confidence.  But these positive steps were not reciprocated.  A recent editorial in the Financial Times summarized the situation during the 1990’s aptly when it stated: “In 1992-1996, at the height of the peace process, Israel reaped a peace dividend without concluding a peace.  Diplomatic recognition of Israel doubled, from 85 to 161 countries, exports doubled and foreign direct investment increased six-fold; per capita income in the occupied territories, however, fell in the same period by more than a third, while the number of settlers expanded by half.” 
     
  3. By the time the Annapolis Peace Conference was convened by President Bush in 2007, the number of settlers exceeded 200,000. The Arab countries attended the Annapolis Conference with the understanding that settlement activity would stop, that what Israel calls illegal settlement outposts would be dismantled, that check-points would be removed, that construction of the barrier wall would stop, and that Palestinian political prisoners would be released.  Israel, however, continued to build settlements and did not remove illegal outposts.  The number of Palestinian prisoners did not decrease substantially, and the checkpoints, which complicate the movement of Palestinians within their own territory, were essentially still in place a year after the Annapolis Conference.

Given the above history, it is reasonable to conclude that an incremental approach, or one built on temporary confidence-building measures or gestures, will not work.  It is our firm view that resolution of this conflict does require outlining the final settlement at the outset, followed by prompt resumption of negotiations on all final status issues – borders, Jerusalem, water, security and refugees – with a deadline set for their early conclusion.  The focus must be on the final settlement and on the final peace, not on an incremental process.  This will make the final outcome clear to all parties, and thereby undermine the ability of extremists on both sides to delay or derail the movement to peace.  It is also absolutely imperative for the United States to play an active and robust role in the negotiations, as history has shown. 

I appreciate your interest in achieving a real and durable peace in the Middle East, and I hope this letter clarifies the Kingdom’s position regarding the steps we believe are necessary to effectively move toward peace.

Sincerely,

Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir
Ambassador