Saudi plan leaves questions open

We wish we could join the global bandwagon that has been falling in step behind a Saudi Arabian land-for-peace plan in the Mideast.

But we can't.

At the moment, it's only what Crown Prince Abdullah proposed to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. In other words, it's not official. At best, it's a trial balloon.

The Saudis are big at floating ideas and then backing off.

But let's say the idea becomes an initiative. How will it overcome a number of major sticking points for both Israeli and Palestinian sides?

Will Israel retain sovereignty over the Old City? What about the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem outside of the pre-1967 borders? And what quid pro quo can guarantee that once Israel withdraws to pre-1967 borders, hostile Arab nations will suddenly extend diplomatic relations?

And what will happen to Yasser Arafat's insistence for Palestinian refugees' "right of return" to the Israeli towns they fled before statehood was declared?

Even if the Saudi proposal is real, matters such as these won't be solved in days, weeks or even months. They will need long, hard negotiations.

World leaders, including President Bush, are prematurely excited because the proposal is the first new idea to come into play originating from a Muslim country. But has anyone considered it is merely a ploy for Saudi Arabia to get on Bush's good side, considering the bulk of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi-born?

We might be sounding overly pessimistic, but too many people are quickly getting their hopes up over a peace plan the Saudis haven't even made officially.

We do hope the plan materializes and can win acceptance by all sides. But it is misguided to begin celebrating peace in the Mideast when the real issue to be addressed is how 17 months of Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting can be stopped…now.

Unless the immediate violence is halted, any peace plan will most likely become a victim of it.