Arab League in Israel: Giving Peace a Chance?

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

A development that would have been politically and diplomatically impossible for most of Israel’s 59 years of existence took place last Wednesday when the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, the Arab nations’ first such meeting as official envoys of the 22-member League of Arab States. Egypt and Jordan already have peace treaties and full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, but most of the other 20 members of the Arab League do not even recognize Israel. The League of Arab States was founded in Cairo in 1945, and serves as the regional body for hammering out a consensus among the 21 Arab states and also the Palestinian Authority, which has an official representative in the Arab League.

According to reporting by Isabel Kershner in last Thursday’s New York Times, Israeli officials welcomed the visit as “historic,” and Arab officials called it an “historic opportunity” for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would be followed by a wider peace between Israel and the broader Arab world. Unitil now, the Arab League has not been a positive force for peace between Israel, the Palestinians and other Mideast nations. Following Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israeli leaders extended the olive branch to the Arab world, the Arab League held a summit conference in Khartoum, Sudan, in August 1967. Instead of accepting Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s call to “go forward to peace,” the Arab Summit Conference enunciated its infamous “three noes” — no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no peace with Israel. Previously, the Arab League initiated the odious Arab Boycott of Israel, refusing to do business with companies that trade with Israel and pressuring countries to shun economic and financial dealings with the State of Israel. Sadly, the boycott of Israel continues and has even gained the support of some radical elements of academic and journalistic unions in Great Britain. When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his historic trip to Jerusalem to address the Knesset and move toward peace with Israel, other members of the Arab League, led by radicals like Colonel Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, broke dipomatic relations with Egypt.

Against this historic backdrop, a move by the Arab League to actually travel to Jerusalem to discuss the prospects for peace, first between Israel and the Palestinians and then with the entire Arab world, is indeed an opportunity of “historic” proportions. At the same time, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was recently succeeded by Gordon Brown, has started his duties as the special Mideast peace envoy on behalf of the Quartet seeking implementation of the long-stalled “Road Map” towards a two-state solution: the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Blair has already traveled to the region, where he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and indicated a “feeling of movement” among the parties in the aftermath of the violent takeover by Hamas of the Gaza Strip, and the formation of a new and more moderate government by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who named a new Cabinet of his Fatah faction in place of the Hamas ministers loyal to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Abbas was quoted in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal as predicting that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could be reached “within a year.” Augmenting Blair’s efforts, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice plans a full-court press toward creation of a Palestinian state before the end of the year, provided that such a state would be both viable and agree formally to live side by side in peace and security with the Jewish State of Israel.

It must be stressed that our hopes have been raised time and again in the past. On Sept. 13, 1993, then-President Bill Clinton looked on as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles, which was supposed to lead to full peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat of course rejected the incredibly generous proposal offered by President Clinton and agreed to by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David talks in July 2000.

Arafat stormed out of the Camp David talks and launched the “Second Intifada,” in which over 1,000 Israelis and 2,500 Palestinians lost their lives until Arafat died and was succeeded by Abbas. We hope that Abbas will at last rise to the occasion to ensure that the momentum toward peace is not once again derailed.

Sign up for Your Morning Light