A non-Saudi official asked me during a telephone conversation a few days ago; “do you think the Saudis will actually not participate in the Annapolis summit? Brother Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) was right when he said that Annapolis was not for normalization… What is the story?”
I answer that I could not speak on behalf of all Saudis, but I could analyze the situation stating that, in addition to what was published in the American press and specifically in the “Washington Post” about the existence of Saudi conditions and the information issued by Washington confirming these Saudi conditions, then I must say that it is clear that Saudis are played the attendance game with a great deal of diplomatic professionalism; similar to a basketball game, where diplomacy will be used until the final millisecond of the game.
Despite the conference date drawing near and the Saudis leaving the door open to speculation regarding their attendance or absence; I had always considered it more likely that Saudis would attend the conference if some conditions were met. Abu Mazen’s words are true, Annapolis is not in a state for normalization and sitting on the negotiating table in Annapolis is much easier than sitting on the Madrid Conference negotiating table in the nineties.
And there is a need for Saudi attendance since Saudis had presented their own “Peace initiative” and Israel should never win the game because of Saudi or Arab absence, especially if the objective behind such conferences is to score points. It is enough to remember the Wye River negotiations and what had been said and what’s still being said in this regard.
Saudi Arabia agreeing to attend the summit, represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal, showed that they did not rush into the situation, but were methodical in their approach, and in the process achieved what it strived for even before their participation.
What the Saudis wanted was for the sponsors of the Annapolis summit to include the Arab peace initiative on the agenda, therefore maintaining the comprehensiveness of the peace process and guaranteeing it would not be limited to one focal issue. This guarantee ensured the Syrian’s right to attend the conference after the inclusion of both the Golan Heights and the Lebanese issues in the Annapolis conference table.
The Saudis also wanted the Americans to understand that concerning the Palestinian issue; the goal of establishing a Palestinian state and the existence of a time-bound framework for negotiations was imperative, as well as the creation of measures to ensure a halt to Israeli settlements.
A few day ago, the Washington post carried statements about Saudi pressures and Israeli maneuverings to counter some of these demands.
It is important to acknowledge here that the Saudi position was important and necessary just like the Saudi attendance is of great importance; the Saudi king’ is the one who presented the initiative which had become the “Arab peace initiative”. Hence, this is why Saudi Arabia was keen on strengthening the Arabs’ stance and avoiding disunity. Such an attendance is aimed at real action and not normalization as Prince Saud Al-Faisal warned that he would not participate in a “theatrical show,” including exchanging handshakes with Israeli leaders. “We are going with seriousness,” the Washington daily reported.
It is vital here to state to all parties that the danger in the Annapolis conference lies in raising the level of expectations and not anticipating what should happen after the conference, particularly if the conference is unable to achieve concrete results and that is what we truly fear the most.