Saudi, European peace plans pushed onto back burner - an analysis
Arab and Israeli hard-liners have forced those pushing for alternatives to the Camp David peace formula to mark time. That is the meaning of two virtually simultaneous developments this week:
* The collapse and postponement of the Arab summit which had been scheduled to meet in Fez, Morocco, this week. This followed Syrian President Hafez Assad's last-minute decision not to attend.
* Israel's apparent determination to veto West European participation in the Sinai peacekeeping force (alongside US troops) on the terms specified by the Europeans.
Both developments set back the hopes of those pushing possible alternatives to the Camp David process.
The Saudis, for instance, know that for their own peace plan to get off the ground Syrian acquiescence is vital. And that is put in doubt by the summit's failure and President Assad's refusal to turn up. The Saudi plan was to have been a major focus of debate.
The West Europeans, too, know that for their Mideast peace proposal to make any progress they must gain Israeli acceptance of their role in the overall peace process. And that is part of what they had hoped to achieve by agreeing to join the Sinai peace force.
But in announcing they were prepared to join the force, the Europeans repeated as their terms the main thrust of their Venice declaration of last year. That accepted the principle of a Palestinian homeland on the West Bank and called for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to be associated with the Middle East peace negotiations - points that are vehemently opposed by Israel.
Both Saudi and European alternatives to Camp David now must wait a little longer. But that does not necessarily mean they are being totally abandoned - no matter how much hard-liners on both sides might want just that.
The Reagan administration is trying to reassure Israel by emphasizing the primary role of Camp David. But the US could still be crucial in keeping the alternative options quietly open as insurance against possible deadlock in the Camp David process - for example, after Israel's final withdrawal from Sinai due next April.
Also to bear in mind is Saudi Arabia's own unprecedented diplomatic offensive in recent weeks to secure broad Arab acceptance of its peace plan. Despite the collapse of the Fez summit, the Saudis may yet resume their efforts to press their plan on the Arab world.
The Saudi plan had been seen by many observers as the most immediate alternative to Camp David. One of its key features is an implied Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist. But it is this very point that Arab hard-liners reject. They argue that it adds up to a sellout of the Palestinians.
Israelis reject the Saudi plan for the opposite reason: that it demands too much. There is an Israeli consensus that the plan would mean the piecemeal dismemberment of Israel.
Israeli hard-liners (and in this context that includes the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin) reject both a Palestinian homeland on the West Bank and any negotiation with the PLO. Hence their concern about the similarities between the European and Saudi plans on such matters.
Mr. Begin has made it clear that European participation in Sinai peacekeeping would be acceptable only if it were on the basis of full acceptance of all aspects of Camp David. His Cabinet's final decision has yet to be announced. But his Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, told five visiting US congressmen in Jerusalem Nov. 25 it would be ''thumbs down.''
That had been expected. What had been in doubt until the last minute was how Syria would react to the Saudi peace plan. But Syrian President Assad's nonattendance at Fez was interpreted as meaning he would not be able to throw his weight behind the Saudi proposals - at least at this stage.
The Saudis can probably live with the opposition to their plan from such Arab ''rejectionists'' as Libya, Iraq, and South Yemen. But Syria, as a front-line state having a common border with Israel and its Golan Heights area under Israeli occupation, is in a quite different category.
Since the beginning of the month, the Saudi government has been involved in intense diplomatic activity to win over both Syria and the PLO. Saudi Arabia is a financial benefactor of both. The Saudis have hinted that they might consider opening diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union - something which both Syria and the PLO would welcome as a counterweight to the Saudis' close relationship with the US.
But apparently the Syrians have not yet been won over. One of the reasons why may be Libya. Syria and Libya have on paper a commitment for the eventual merger of their countries. Most analysts are skeptical this will take place, but President Assad is sensitive about his relative isolation in the region and may not want to alienate the Libyans.
Another factor may well be the division within the PLO on the Saudi proposals.