Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia appears confident that it can win a broad measure of Arab endorsement for its eight-point Middle East peace plan. In many ways the Saudi plan - essentially a list of points on which peace with Israel is to be based - has become the focal point of a tug of war between moderates and radicals in the Arab world.
Broad Arab endorsement of the plan, first announced by Saudi Crown Prince Fahd last August, would signal a clear victory for the moderate forces in the Arab world - forces that are perceived as basically pro-Western.
The peace plan will be submitted to its first formal screening Nov. 10, when the heads of state of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman - gather here for two days of talks.
Although the foreign ministers of the six countries are only drafting the agenda for the meeting, the Saudi peace plan is certain to feature prominently in their discussions. The GCC summit is not only expected to endorse the plan but also to present it as a joint initiative to the Arab summit conference, scheduled to be held Nov. 25 in Morocco.
Saudi Arabia is working hard behind the scenes to ensure Arab endorsement of its plan. Following a recent visit to Moscow, North Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih held talks with Saudi leaders in Riyadh.
Earlier this week Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat paid a brief visit to the kingdom. From Riyadh Arafat embarked on a tour of radical Arab states in an attempt to ensure their participation in this month's Arab summit.
Arafat has publicly described the Saudi peace plan as a ''constructive step.'' But he has recently come in for some criticism within Palestinian ranks for his closeness to the conservative Saudi government - one of the PLO's major financial backers. Hard-line groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Syrian-backed Al Saiqa have denounced both the Saudi plan and Arafat's interest in it.
The radical Palestinians are joined in their opposition to the Saudi peace move by members of the rejectionist Arab Steadfastness and Confrontation Front and by Iraq. Syria rejects the plan, claiming that it violates a 1974 Arab summit resolution against ''unilateral'' peace initiatives. Iraqi officials last month told Western diplomats that they opposed both the Saudi peace plan and a possible return of Egypt to the Arab fold.
But even Middle East observers say many radical Arabs will ultimately find it difficult to maintain their opposition to the plan. Most of Crown Prince Fahd's eight points correspond to generally accepted demands in the Arab world and are borrowed from United Nations resolutions.
Says one senior Arab diplomat: ''How can they oppose a plan which calls for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territory occupied in 1967 including Jerusalem, dismantling of all Israeli settlements built on Arab land after 1967, an affirmation of the right of the Palestinian people to return to their homes and to an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital? There is no way most opponents can in the end avoid endorsing the Saudi proposal.''
(The remaining points include: guaranteeing freedom of access and worship for all faiths at the holy places; the West Bank of the Jordan River to be subject to United Nations supervision for a transitional period; and confirmation of the right of the states of the region to live in peace.)
Syrian opposition to the Saudi plan is believed to be motivated by the conviction that the United States, with a helping hand from Saudi Arabia, is bent on eliminating the Syrian military presence in Lebanon.
Advocates within the PLO of a peaceful resolution of the Middle East crisis hope that their confrontation with Syria will lead to a showdown with the radicals within their own ranks. One Arafat aide says: ''President Reagan is increasingly relying on Saudi Arabia. The price he will have to pay is recognition of the PLO. This is why the time has come to clean up our own house.''
Arafat, against the background of his expressed interest in the Saudi peace plan, is increasingly being torn between Syrian attempts to push him toward radicalism and moderate attempts to force him to take a clear-cut and unambiguous, moderate stand. Crown Prince Fahd's eight-point plan - an expanded version of a proposal put forward three years ago by Khaled al-Hassan, a ranking PLO official with close ties to the Saudi royal family - plays a crucial role in this connection.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud told a news conference Nov. 5 that the kingdom hopes for endorsement of the plan not only by the Arab summit, but also by the European Community and the UN. Universal endorsement would elevate the plan toward the level of a serious peace initiative.
Deep-seated anti-communism appears to be one motive for the concerted moderate Arab moves. One prominent PLO moderate says, ''Compare the Soviets to croupiers in a roulette game. All they have to do is pick up the pieces the Americans leave behind.''
He adds that ''while the US is concerned with the anti-Soviet strategic consensus, the Soviets at least verbally profess to be concerned with our more immediate grievance, a solution of the Palestinian question.''