Prince Saud told TIME on Wednesday that four days of renewed Palestinian fighting had jeopardized the Mecca Agreement mediated by Saudi Arabia in February, which ended months of internal clashes and established a Palestinian national unity government. "If fighting continues, and spreads, and the government falls, then that would be catastrophic for the cause of peace," said Prince Saud, whose government is taking a lead in promoting a new peace effort.
The blow to Saudi diplomacy was reflected in what the Kingdom's top diplomat described as the "stern" messages he has delivered to Palestinian leaders on behalf of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud. The Saudi monarch, Prince Saud explained, is holding Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Hamas exile chief Khaled Meshaal "firmly to the commitment they made in the eyes of God." In mediating the accord, the Saudis argued that Palestinian unity was essential in order to start negotiations with Israel, brushing aside U.S. concerns that Hamas, a radical group that refuses to recognize Israel, would tie the hands of the pro-negotiations Fatah party.
Prince Saud saw an encouraging sign in the fact that "the government is standing firm. It is working to quell the fighting and it is keeping united." The Palestinian leaders, he said, have told the Saudi King that they would halt the fighting and punish the perpetrators.
Responding to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's invitation to all Arab leaders to visit Israel to discuss the Arab peace initiative, Prince Saud said that Arabs were looking for a "clear sign of interest, not just words," such as a freeze on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.
TIME: Your reaction to the Palestinian infighting?
Prince Saud: It is so senseless. It is shocking particularly at this time, when all efforts are extended on the peace process. It definitely means that there are on both sides, Fatah and Hamas people who have vested interests in keeping the fighting going and in preventing the peace process from continuing. [A] positive issue is that the government is standing firm. It is working to quell the fighting and it is keeping united.
TIME: Does the fighting jeopardize the Mecca Agreement [creating the Palestinian unity government] negotiated by Saudi Arabia?
Prince Saud: It is already threatened, if [the fighting] doesn't stop, if the perpetrators are not punished.
TIME: Does it threaten the Arab peace initiative?
Prince Saud: The government, when it was formed, it was to lead the Palestinian people towards the negotiated settlement. But if fighting continues, and spreads, and the government falls, then that would be catastrophic for the cause of peace. Certainly there will not be any reasonable expectation of success [for the Arab peace initiative] without a return to unity between the Palestinians.