Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — Good relations between the United States and the Arab world are likely to be increasingly dependent on a satisfactory solution of the Palestine problem, it is believed here.
A new sense of urgency for a Palestine solution prevails among officials in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and Western diplomats do not exclude the possibility of attempts to pressure the United States on the subject through its European allies.
Recent developments in the Middle East and South Asia are seen as heightening the importance of a swift solution of the Palestine problem to the Arab states.
"The United States must realize that there are regional conflicts which much be solved before stable security arrangements can be made," one ranking Saudi official said.
Political experts in the Saudi capital of Riyadh believe that this sense of urgency is due to the resurgence of Muslim feelings in many parts of the third world and to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"If Muslims can stand together against the occupation of Afghanistan, how about Jerusalem, which is one of the most holy places in Islam?" a Saudi official asked.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states see their security endangered by the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the same extent they feel threatened by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
For example, Saudi officials wonder "how one can justify a collective security arrangement to prevent occupation by the Soviet Union and at the same time have the United States be the main arms supplier to Israel, which occupies Arab lands and has already driven the Palestinians from their homeland?"
"It is a pure contradiction in US policy, which can only be resolved by the United States," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud ibn Faisal said in an interview with NBC-TV news Feb. 6. The Saudis fear that the Palestine question might provide the Soviet Union with a chance to divide and rule in the Arab world.
Prince Saud was further quoted as saying that "the Soviet mode of operation is based on exploiting problems. . . . The Russians will say propaganda-wise to the Arab states: 'Why do you turn for help to the country that arms Israel?'"
Moreover, the Saudi Foreign Minister warned that "if you [the United States] arm Israel, the Arabs will look elsewhere for arms." Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Fahd Abdul-Aziz pointed out in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro that "there are numerous alternatives [to the US] for military, technological, and economic exchanges."
Some Western diplomats believe that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states might increasingly turn to France for arms as a means of applying pressure on the United States. They point out that French arms manufacturers feel they have been badly hit by the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which is said to have given US weaponry a near monopoly in those countries.
These diplomats now expect a French attempt to exploit Arab disillusionment with US efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. They point out that:
* French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing is scheduled to visit several Gulf states early next month and will be seeking to beef up his country's arms sales.
* French Prime Minister Raymond Barre plans to visit Saudi Arabia in the immediate future.
* Saudi Arabia already has purchased hundreds of French AMX tanks, armored vehicles, and 155-mm. long-distance field artillery. Moreover, the present number of 500 French technical assistants and military advisers in Saudi Arabia is expected to rise this year to over 1,000.
* The Gulf countries are planning an $8 billion arms industry to produce French Mirage III jet fighters and Crotale missiles, according to the Kuwait newspaper Al-Siyassah.
Moreover, some Western diplomats believe that the Palestine Liberation Organization's offensive may be rekindled.