Is David Ignatius Falling For Saudi Propaganda?

Is David Ignatius Falling For Saudi Propaganda?

Washington Post columnist and occasional novelist and diplomat, David Ignatius, is one of the best informed and wisest of commentators on Middle East affairs.  Thus it is with concern that in yesterday’s Washington Post in a column titled, “A new chance for Middle East peace?” he seems to have fallen for third rate propaganda largely being pushed by the Saudi government, although also backed by the UAE ambassador (closely allied to Saudi Arabia in their anti-Iran and anti-Qatar escapades), as well as “the White House.”  I can appreciate that in recent years hopes for any kind of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal have simply been absent, so maybe he is indulging in some sort of optimistic thinking with the idea that pushing any sort of plan is better than having none.  But I fear that not only is he being a pollyanna here, but joining a herd of suckers for drivel coming out of the Saudi PR machine, which wishes to puff up new Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammed bin Salman (MBS) as a wonderfully progressive and open-minded reformer.  Yuck.

Indeed, what is probably the most dramatic point here is that indeed MBS has apparently been going around saying that “resolution of the Palestinian problem and peace with Israel are ‘crucial for the future of the Middle East.'”  This is indeed louder than what has been heard from Saudi leaders previously, although the late King Abdullah did put forward a peace plan that involved the Israelis moving back to the 1967 borders, a plan that went nowhere.  So, peace noises out of the Saudis are not exactly completely unprecedented.

The more detailed part of the column where Ignatius shows his usual ability to ferret out information not previously reported by others is that the specific plan being pushed involves using a UAE-based Gazan Palestinian named Mohammed Dahlan to get Hamas to moderate its demands on Israel in response for a bunch of economic aid, including a power plant to be built across the border from Gaza in Egypt.  No evidence that the current Hamas leaders in Gaza will go along with this is provided and, and it is admitted that Dalhan has long been at odds with Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO leader who is in charge of the West Bank.

I grant that Ignatius recognizes that MBS has his flaws, “has made brash moves that have caused him trouble, including the war in Yemen.”  But this is all supposedly offset by his “youthful and dynamic leadership” as touted to Ignatius by MBS’s younger brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, now Saudi ambassador to the US, with the UAE ambassador also weighing in.  Ignatius recognizes that underlying this push from the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian axis and possibly Israelis is a common enmity shared with the Trump administration toward Iran. Ignatius does not discuss the increasingly failed effort by these to isolate Qatar, which has just reopened diplomatic relations with Iran, or the dangerous apparent moves by the Trump administration to undo the Iran nuclear deal.

Maybe all this would be wonderful, but frankly it looks like a bunch of wishful thinking amounting to poor propaganda given today’s reporting. In the first section of today’s WaPo is a story about the trip just concluded by Jared Kushner to that neck of the woods, with Ignatius’s story clearly representing some PR for it based on what Kushner thinks he is doing, with Kushner and MBS big pals by all reports.  This is their big plan.  But in a story misleadingly titled “Kushner’s Mideast talks called ‘productive'” it turns out that mostly things look like they are not going anywhere.

A meeting with Mahmoud Abbas had a bottom line that Abbas is not going to do any serious talking unless the Trump administration accepts the two-state solution, and the story made it clear that Kushner did not do that, and the administration more generally has not done that.  It also  notes that the Netanyahu government is becoming distracted by an increasing corruption scandal, so may be unwilling or unable to do anything at all out of the ordinary.  Maybe there will be mumbling in Gaza, but the idea that we are on the verge of some great breakthrough in Palestinian-Israeli relations looks to be a joke, despite Ignatius playing pumpboy for the trouble-making Saudi crown prince’s propaganda who seems so able to get lots of people in Washington to spout his nonsensical and dangerous drivel at the drop of a hat (or a sword).

This is disappointing.  David Ignatius should know better.

Barkley Rosser