The Saudi Spring
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has won from Thomas Friedman of the Times an endorsement of what the columnist calls the “reform process” in the Saudi regime. “Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down,” Mr. Friedman writes. He adds: “Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.”
Call us a fool, but the Sun is going to hold out for an unconditional recognition of the Jewish State. We admire Mr. Friedman’s reporting chops, but this isn’t the first time he has returned from Riyadh full of excitement. In 2002, the Timesman retailed a Saudi plan for peace between Israel and the Arabs. It centered on the idea that in return for mounting riots — the Second Intifada — the Palestinian Arabs would get half of the Jewish capital at Jerusalem.
That seemed like a good idea to the Times, but while talking peace, the Saudis were financing terror. That gambit, in which the Times talked up its own peace plan, was recalled not long ago in a column by Stephen Flatow of the Jewish News Service. Now the Saudi Crown Prince suggests he wants to end the reign of extremist Wahhabi Islam in favor of “restoring” a pre-1979 Islam that, in the Prince’s version, was full of toleration.
Good for him. We understand there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since the Saudi plan of 2002. Yet nowhere in Mr. Friedman’s latest is there even one mention of the word “democracy” or, for that matter, “Israel.” It may be that Mr. Friedman asked those questions but lacked the space to address them in a piece of 2,800 words. The democracy part of it relates to the Prince’s standing — and to his capacity to make a lasting peace with anyone.
The Israel part is something any Saudi leader will have to address for this newspaper to see much percentage in any of it. Nothing so far has come close. There’s just too much history and too much going on elsewhere in the Middle East. Mr. Friedman’s dispatch, we note, coincides with a story in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper suggesting that the Trump Administration is “fed up” with Israel’s supposed “refusal to build trust with the Palestinians.”
What does that mean? Is that what is being said by Mr. Trump’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, or his advisor Jason Greenblatt, or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner? We don’t gainsay their horsepower. Are we, though, going to see a pincer movement in which the only freely-elected, democratic government in the Middle East will be cornered by the “moderate” Saudis and the Trump administration and forced to accept a division of Jerusalem in favor of a pact with a Palestinian regime that lacks a democratic representative?