In an article in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on March 26, 2007, the eve of the Arab League summit in Riyadh, liberal author Dr. Mamoun Fandy wrote on the Arabs’ tendency to leave obstructions to development in place rather than remove them, comparing these issues to rocks left in the middle of the road.
In particular, he points to the Palestinian issue as one that has drained the energies of the Arab states for more than 50 years, and calls on the conferees at the summit to remove the demand for the return of Palestinian refugees from the Arab peace initiative in order to arrive at a practical and realistic solution to the Palestinian issue.
The following are excerpts, courtesy of MEMRI:(1)
“For 50 Years the Arabs Have Been Walking Around the Palestinian Issue”
“King ‘Abdallah Bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz’s initiative has traveled the breadth and width of the Arab states and the world since 2002, until they [i.e. the Arabs] returned to it once more in Riyadh in 2007.
“It was inevitable that the initiative, like every Arab dossier, would tour like this… [The Arabs] have become convinced today that this tour is no solution, and have returned to the land of the 2002 initiative for the Riyadh summit… [But] the basic problem for the [summit] conferees can still be summed up in one word: ‘rock.’
“I am referring to… the boulder placed in the middle of the public road, which is surrounded by the cries of those with a vested interest in its remaining in place.
“In every country in the world, when a rock obstructs a road, the municipality hurries to move it aside to facilitate the flow of traffic. However, in the Arab world, someone throws a rock in the road, and instead of moving it aside, those claiming to be of sound judgment come up with [what they consider] the ideal way to deal with the problem of the rock – namely, placing a sign above it saying “Careful of the Rock.”
“The worst thing is that tending to the rock requires, in the long term, entire institutions – from the workers who man the shifts at night carrying lanterns to light up the sign above the rock, to the construction of an overpass to circumvent the rock, or the digging of an underpass.
“One of the most important responsibilities of the Riyadh summit is to get rid of the rock, instead of placing a warning sign on it and going around it.
“The rocks that stand in the path of our success and our development are many, from all our institutions… to our international relations. But I will be blunt right from the start, and say that leaving the Palestinian issue for 50 years without an ultimate solution is the largest rock blocking the road of Arab development. Either we remove this rock from the road with a fundamental and permanent solution, or else we continue building overpasses and underpasses.
“For 50 years, the Arabs have been walking around the Palestinian issue. They started newspapers and broadcasts and TV stations for this issue, and produced writers and analysts and intellectuals for this issue, and readied tremendous armies and allocated fat budgets to this issue, but none of this advanced a solution or was of any benefit. All of this just rallied under the sign ‘Careful of the Rock.'”
By Including the Right of Return, the Arabs “Emptied the [Saudi] Initiative of its Content”
“The strange thing is that the Palestinian issue did not merely make the Arabs uphold leaving it like a rock [obstructing] development in their countries, but has even made the Israelis share these same feelings with us, since it is in their interest to leave the issue of Palestine as a rock in the region. The Americans joined in the process [as well,] and began to draw up a map to avoid the rock, instead of removing the pitfall from the road.
“It was King ‘Abdullah Bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz alone who proposed [this] earnest initiative at the Beirut summit in 2002, and it was the start of an earnest dialogue to resolve the issue of Palestine. But the ‘rock crowd’ added to it the issue of the return of the Palestinian refugees, in order to change it from an earnest initiative suitable for a comprehensive solution, that made the most of the existing realities, into an initiative that was impossible to implement, [and] not much different than the unimplemented Security Council resolutions. In so doing, they emptied the Saudi initiative of its content, and left the Palestine issue as a rock, so that they can carry the lanterns that light up the sign hung on the rock, and so they can shout at us, ‘Careful of the rock!’
“[When] the initiative is proposed again now in Riyadh, it must be a courageous proposal that does not bow to the ‘rock lobby.’ The Palestinian issue must be solved, as a basis for the solution of all of the pending questions in the region.
“I personally consider it auspicious that representatives from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Turkey are present at this summit, since we, as Arabs, have over the last 50 years become accustomed to [seeing the Palestinian issue as] a knotty issue that only the prophets can unravel – so that for us it has reached the level of sanctity. Perhaps those coming from afar have a courageous, outside perspective that can help us call things by their [true] names and help us see the issue of Palestine as one that can be resolved through clarity of vision, without exaggerating its sanctity.”
Some Conferees Will Come “Armed to the Teeth With Their Media Militias” and Will Say that the “Iranian Rock Blocking Peace and Security is an ‘Islamic Rock'”
“The [second] rock that the Riyadh summit must deal with is… the export of extremism, which has become the Arabs’ second [largest] export after oil. The conferees need to discuss clearly and transparently the downturn in the security situation in Iraq, and the suicide terrorists who blow themselves up there, even in the houses of Allah. They didn’t come out of [thin] air, nor did they come to Iraq through the air, [but rather came to Iraq from neighboring countries].
“The responsibility for combating terrorism is weighty and is shared [by all], and it calls for an urgent collective effort that cannot stand delay. But some of the conferees in Riyadh claim that America alone is responsible for the destruction… This claim is an attempt to evade responsibility and to leap over the rock via an overpass.
“The Riyadh summit must address [the issue of a] nuclear Iran, another large rock placed in the center of the Middle East, despite its complexities. Naturally, there will be at the summit a significant group of politicians armed to the teeth with their media militias, who will say that the Iranian rock blocking peace and security in the region is ‘an Islamic rock,’ and that ‘the intervention of America or Europe in this matter is humiliating to the feelings of the Muslims,’ and that ‘moving this rock is an offense to Islam and the Muslims‘…
“Education in the Arab world could also be considered a large rock in the path of development, to which the coming Arab summit should pay heed. This is especially [true] since we know that not a single university in the Arab world offers an intellectual product for the world’s consideration – unless we take into account some of the universities’ specialization in producing ‘software’ for terrorism and a [terrorist] mentality. Our education ministers claim that it is impossible to do better, and that the budgets allocated to them are insufficient, and that there is no choice but to establish private universities, on the condition that they not teach the curricula of the ‘infidels.’ This is an ingenious solution, much like the solution of employing workers with lanterns at night to call pedestrians’ attention to the rock placed in the middle of the path.
“What the coming Arab summit in Riyadh must do is move aside the heavy rocks [obstructing] growth, development, and peace in the Arab world, and not shirk its responsibilities… and circle around them, or build bridges and tunnels above and below them.
“The Arab world expects King ‘Abdullah Bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz… the author of the initiative on which the summit will focus, to restore to the Arabs their faith in the meaning of the word ‘summit’…”
(1) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 26, 2007.