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A Tall Order for Saudi Arabia?

The _New York Times_ “inadvertently highlights”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/us/01prexy.html?hpw how much more intransigent than Israel most Arab states are. President Barack Obama is soon heading to Saudi Arabia, where he will present wish-lists from the U.S. government, from the Israeli government, and from the Palestinian Authority. Israel isn’t asking for much — just a few symbolic tourist visas, meetings between Saudi officials and their Israeli counterparts, and the opening of a Saudi interests office in Tel Aviv. “These would be a tall order for the Arab kingdom,” the Times says.

Good grief. The Obama Administration expects Israelis to stop building houses in Jewish neighborhoods in suburban Jerusalem that they never intend to abandon, yet the Saudis won’t even _talk _to Israelis or let a few Jews visit the beach.

Once in a while, it’s wise to refuse meetings with enemies. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito during World War II. President Obama won’t hold a summit with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar or with Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Israel, though, isn’t a threat to Saudi Arabia. Israel has never attacked Saudi Arabia. Israel almost certainly never will attack Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace and normal relations with Saudi Arabia now. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to even speak to Israelis under these circumstances makes its government more reactionary than Israel’s would have been had then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused to meet with then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979.

The idea that Saudi Arabia “can’t” have diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian question is resolved has become mainstream, even axiomatic, but it’s nonsense.

Azerbaijan has an overwhelming Muslim majority, but Israel has an embassy there. Relations between the two countries are not only good, “they’re improving”:http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1243872307395&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull. Most Turks, including those in the government, sympathize more with Palestinians than with Israelis, but “Turkey remains an ally of Israel”:http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/domestic/10705597.asp. Seventy percent of Albanians are at least nominal Muslims, but “Albania gets along just fine with Israel”:http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2006/03/28/feature-03.

None of those Muslim-majority countries are Arab, to be sure, but that shouldn’t make any difference. Egypt and Jordan are Arabic countries. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they fought deadly hot wars with Israel. Yet they both signed peace treaties years ago. There is no iron law of geopolitics that requires Saudi Arabia to remain in a state of cold war with Israel. The only reason the Saudis don’t have normal relations with Israel is because they prefer hostile relations.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/68152.

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