You may recall when, not so long ago, I posted on The Spine the news that Adel Al-Jubeir had become the Saudi ambassador to Washington. I ventured to suggest that this appointment might augur a new, active and forward-looking participant in the search for some negotiated formula to ease the hundred-year struggle in ancient Palestine. That participant is Saudi Arabia, whose government Al-Jubeir represents in Washington and which he has for years been trying to drag into the realities of the modern world. The nightmarish circumstances of Iraq and the nutcase threat from Iran, with all of their bleak but explosive consequence for the region, seem to have awakened the realists in Riyadh.
I have always thought that, in the end, Israel and Saudi Arabia are fated to protect each other. There are still many steps that have to be taken between them. (I have lots of ideas... and I'll parse them out here over time.) But Israel is the one supremely modern country in the Middle East. It has much know-how and know-why to share with its neighbors. I wouldn't be surprised, for example, is there were to be a lot of intensive intelligence transfer between the two states. And scientific knowledge, too. Both of these, mostly from Israel. Still, Saudi Arabia—however backwards it is on gender matters—will be pushed into modernity, and on gender, too.
One also has to realize that there is no single rational (or irrational) actor in the monarchy. Many of the princelings and other unimaginably rich commoner titans spent huge amounts money on satanically nasty enterprises in the world, and perhaps the top royals ignored this. They are no longer. Out of fear of the turmoil and turbulence in the Muslim world, some of which they have experienced in their own country, they are on alert. Emergency alert.
The Saudi initiative, first broached five years ago when the fire under the Arabs was not so hot and before the Iraq war, is a little naive in what it seems to promise the Palestinians. But Israel has agreed to use it as a basis for talks. And it won't agree to a formula that would allow Palestinian "patriots" to use the territories as a launching pad for rockets, missiles and other simpler artillery and weapons. The Saudi plan emerges from the utter failure of Egypt as an intermediary between the Palestinian Authority (both Fatah and Hamas) and Israel. Egypt is, in fact, both a toy soldier and a toy diplomat. And, as for Jordan, its king speaks perfect English. But he has neither real power nor wealth behind him. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has both, although he has no brigades. His emissary to the U.S. has a plateful, a plate he wants.