Arabs toughen stance as Haig conveys US aims
Staunchly pro-US Israel likes what it hears from the Reagan administration. But pro-US Jordan adn Saudi Arabia have been hardening their attitudes toward the United States in recent days in preparation for an attempt by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. to convince them of his view:
It is that they must separate the Palestinian question from the Soviet threat to the Middle East.
There is no evidence that the Arab states on Secretary Haig's fact-finding mission are ready to accept his argument. Western analysts here predict that, as one says, "The voices from Amman [Jordan] and Riyadh [Saudi Arabia] are going to tell him: 'The Israelis and Egyptians will buy your ideas, but not us."
This never-the-twain-shall-meet situation seems to indicate that the US will have to continue to follow two-track alignment in the Middle East: Washington, Cairo, and Israel on the one hand; and Washington, Amman, Riyadh, et al., on the other -- and hope the two do not clash.
Conservative Arab regimes cannot be expected to budge on their call for an independent Palestine. An Israeli analyst claims that, by holding to a position that Israel and the Reagan administration firmly oppose, conservative Arabs are insuring that the status quo (2 million Palestinian refugees and Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip) remains.
What's more, the analyst told the Monitor, the Arabs are insuring that a potentially radical Palestine does not rise to threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
Saudi and Jordanian reticence to accept Mr. Haig's view of the primacy of the Soviet threat really stems, Israelis and others argue, not from a commitment to the Palestinian cause but from other pressing concerns --with the Palestinians as cover. These are:
* The Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia, do not want to become overly involved in the new East-West rivalry heralded by President Reagan and Mr. Haig. They believe that by aligning themselves too closely with Washington they will become targets for Moscow.
* The fragile Arab regimes do not wish to be seen returning the Gulf to the 1950s, when colonialism and neocolonial alliances were in effect. If the US is given bases or facilities for rapid deployment, radical circles could grow stronger.
* Revolutionary Iran still plays a spoiler role in the Gulf.President Abolhassan BaniSadr has periodically warned the Gulf states that an American presence would constitute aggression against Iran.
* Iraq's President Saddam Hussein is pragmatically turning westward and toward conservative Arabs such as Jordan's King Hussein and Saudi Arabiahs King Khalid. If, however, the Gulf war ends (reports from Tehran and Baghdad April 7 indicated an Islamic Conference cease-fire proposal is getting unprecedented attention), or if the war were eventually won by Saddam Hussein, he could resume his antagonistic posture toward conservatives.
In February 1980, less than a month after former President Carter issued the "Carter doctrine," naming the Gulf a vital strategic area for the United States, Saddam Hussein proposed that Arab countries should ostracize any nation allowing armies, military forces, or any foreign forces and bases in the Arab homeland or facilitating their presence in any formula.
For these reasons, says the Israeli analyst, "the Gulf states are not in a position to deviate from the idea of Arab nonalignment. The Palestinians are the alibi."
This Israeli analysis of sentiments in the Arab world likely comes close to Haig's. Haig told Israeili leaders that the US and Israel hold "almost identical views" on issues in the Middle East.