MIDDLE EAST

Don’t dismiss Arab League’s offer to talk

 
 
Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.
AP

dromi@jerusalempressclub.com

The Arab League made some headlines this week, when its representative, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, conveyed in Washington something that looks like a softening of the traditional Arab hard line towards the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of returning to the pre-1967 borders, he said, the Arab League is now ready to consider some land swap.

If this is true, then it means that the Arabs might have reluctantly come to terms with the reality developed since the Six-Day War, namely, that some Israeli settlements have become accomplished facts, and that there is no way on earth to uproot them. This sounds like a positive move by the Arab League, an organization which usually doesn’t enjoy the trust of Israelis.

The first time I heard about the Arab League was in 1964, when I was about to graduate high school. I heard over the radio that this organization, representing the Arab states surrounding Israel, in its convention in East Jerusalem (then in the hands of the Jordanians), announced the creation of another organization: the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

I asked my father, who was listening as well, what it meant. He said he didn’t know, but anything initiated by the Arab League must be dangerous to Israel. He then told me about 1948, when, just before the establishment of the state of Israel, the secretary of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, threatened us with genocide, “a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”

Many years later, Israeli historian Tom Segev claimed that Pasha didn’t really mean it, and that he was just bragging. But in 1964 I didn’t know that yet. On the contrary, I learned that the Arab League was behind the Arab boycott of Israeli products. Therefore, my perception of the Arab League as the ultimate bad guys remained intact.

Then came the Six-Day War. Again the Arabs were threatening us with destruction, and the Voice of Cairo radio announced that Tel Aviv is burning. I was serving in the Israeli Air Force at the time, and I knew perfectly well that as this nonsense was aired the Egyptian air force had already been destroyed, and that the Egyptians, followed by the Jordanians and the Syrians, were on their way to a smashing defeat.

Like many Israelis, I believed at the time that this was the war to end all wars, and that the Arabs will sit down with us, make peace and get their territories back. Nothing of the sort happened. On the contrary, it was no other than the same Arab League, which, in its summit in Khartoum in September 1967, gave us not one No, but three: No peace with Israel; No recognition of Israel; No negotiations with it.

The Arab League, then, remained the epitome of Arab rejection of Israel. When in 1979 President Anwar Sadat courageously signed a peace accord with Israel, the Arab League punished Egypt by suspending it for a whole decade. Then it sank into impotence over its dubious role during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and as far as Israel was concerned, I thought we wouldn’t bother about them anymore.

In 2002, however, the Arab League reemerged with a surprising move. In its summit conference in Beirut in March 2002, it announced that in return for Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, its member states would make peace with Israel and put an end to the conflict. What a far cry from the Khartoum summit!

Israel wasn’t responsive to this initiative, mainly because the resolution had called for the withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and the establishment of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. Moreover, the refugee issue remained ambiguous. The resolution spoke about “the return of the Palestinian refugees,” but didn’t specify where they should return to: to the Palestinian state? To Israel? No Israeli would have agreed to the latter solution, which is perceived by Israelis as the destruction of Israel.

Years passed , the Second Lebanon War erupted, and when it seemed that Arab-Israeli relations have never been worse, the Arab League surprised again. At its summit meeting in Riyyad in March, 2007, it decided to send the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan to Israel in an attempt to raise support for its 2002 initiative. Again, the Israeli reaction was hesitant. According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper from Aug. 9, 2012, Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister in 2007, considered an option to personally address the summit participants, but backed out at the last moment.

So today, the Arab League is knocking on the door of Israel again, this time through Washington. I think we should open the door. This is not the same Arab League my father loathed and feared in 1948, and Israel is not the same embryonic, fragile, state it was then.

If Arabs have become resigned to the fact that Israel is here to stay and want to talk peace with Israel, let’s sit down and talk. No preconditions, no hidden agenda, just face to face, hard, candid talk. If they bluff, that’s the way to find out. We fought each other for so long, and maybe we’ll fight again. In the meantime, why not give talk a chance?

Read more Uri Dromi stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
DROMI

    SPY CASE

    Release Jonathan Pollard

    In a last, desperate, attempt to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from failure, a tripartite deal was hurriedly cooked: Israel would reportedly freeze settlements and release Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinians would stay at the negotiating table, and the Americans would release Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, who was jailed for life in 1987 for passing secret documents to Israel.

  •  
Israeli soldiers unload bags from a seized cargo ship’s container in the port of Eilat. Israeli officials say the ship was carrying weapons en route from Iran to Gaza.

    ISRAEL

    Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Cuban missile precedent

    In light of a ship caught carrying aggressive weapons, aimed at terrorizing his fellow countrymen, the leader delivered a firm message, warning that neither his country “nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril”.

  •  
DROMI

    MIDEAST

    Israel can’t turn its back on the world

    Recently, at the Jerusalem Press Club, I hosted Marcella Rosen, the author of Tiny Dynamo: How One of the Smallest Countries Is Producing Some of Our Most Important Inventions. Amazon advertises this book as a “fascinating collection of 21 stories detailing Israel's inventions that benefit all of mankind. From desalting the ocean to the tiny PillCam that videos your insides, the Flash Drive to spinal surgery robots, watering the desert with drip irrigation, blasting breast tumors and curing major diseases: Israel is a hotbed of start-ups and idea incubation wildly disproportionate to its tiny size.”

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category