A thought constantly in my mind, and which was reinforced by the Arab League’s 25th Summit in Kuwait, is that with Arab leaders and governments as “enemies” the Zionist state of Israel does not need friends.
The Arab League was formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945. Its six founding member states were Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan (renamed Jordan in 1949) Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Today the Arab League has 22 members (though Syria’s membership has been suspended since November 2011).
Question: In terms of significant, positive contributions to regional and international affairs, what has the Arab League got to show for its 69 years of existence?
Apart from its 2002 initiative for ending the conflict in and over Palestine that became Israel, the short answer is NOTHING.
That initiative, the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Plan, was adopted by the Arab League Summit in Beirut on 22 March 2002. It offered Israel a full normalization of relations in exchange for Israel ending its occupation of all Arab territory grabbed in the 1967 war, Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem its capital and a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem.
Because Israel’s leaders were fully aware that in negotiations Arab leaders were prepared to accept, as Arafat had, that the Palestinian right of return would have to be restricted to the territory of the Palestinian mini state, and that an option for Jerusalem was for it to be an open, undivided city and the capital of two states, it was a plan for a comprehensive peace which any rational government in Israel would have accepted with relief.
The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon swiftly rejected this Arab initiative saying it was a “non-starter”.
At its Riyadh Summit in 2007 the Arab League endorsed its 2002 initiative and then sent the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt to Israel to promote it. Netanyahu, then an opposition leader, rejected it outright. Subsequently, as prime minister, he said, “The conflict isn’t over land but Israel’s right to exist.”
That was nonsense of the highest order because the conflict is obviously about land and, also, the Arab peace plan was about accepting and recognizing Israel’s actual existence (right or not) inside its pre-1967 borders and normalizing relations with that entity.
In the light of the above I think it can be said that the Arab League’s only significant contribution to developments has been to prove that Israel’s leaders are not remotely interested in peace on any terms the vast majority of Palestinians and the whole Arab world (and Iran) could accept.
Question: Is there anything the Arab League could have done in the past to limit Zionism’s arrogance of power and secure an acceptable amount of justice for the Palestinians?
The long answer as in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews is “Yes”. The short version of it is this.
In the weeks following the 1967 war, the Arab League could have sent a representative, authorised to speak for all the member states, on a secret mission to the White House, to deliver a message, one-on-one, to President Johnson. “Mr. President, if you don’t use the leverage you have to get Israel back behind its pre-war borders, we’ll turn off the oil taps.”
If such a message had been delivered to Johnson and if had believed that Arab leaders were united on the matter and serious, he would have replied to this effect: “Give me two or three weeks, perhaps a little longer, and I’ll do what you want.” (Johnson, who had given Israel the green light to attack Egypt and only Egypt, was fully aware that the conflict of June 1967 was a war of Israeli aggression not self-defense).
If the boot had been on the other foot — I mean if Zionism’s decision makers had been in the Arab position – they would have played the oil card.
Question: Why did Arab leaders, through the Arab League, not do so?
Again the long answer is in my book. The short version of it is in two parts.
The first is that when Israel closed the Palestine file with its victory on the battlefield in 1948, the Arab regimes secretly shared the same hope as Zionism and the major powers – that the file would remain closed. The Palestinians were supposed to accept their lot as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of political expediency. (Thereafter, and despite some stupid rhetoric to the contrary which gave apparent substance to Zionism’s propaganda lies, the Arab regimes never, ever, had any intention of fighting Israel to liberate Palestine. It was only in Zionist mythology and brainwashed Jewish minds everywhere that the Arab states were committed to driving Israel’s Jews into the sea).
The second is the nature of the deal the rulers of the oil-producing Arab states struck with America. In effect it boiled down to this. As long as the Arab regimes which mattered most guaranteed the flow of oil at prices America and the West were willing to pay (and spent billions buying American military hardware), America and the West would not challenge their authoritarian and repressive rule.
The conclusion invited is that corrupt and repressive Arab regimes betrayed their own masses as well as the Palestinians. (But why should I be so hard on Arab leaders? Isn’t that the way the world works? Could it not be said that governments almost everywhere, including and especially America, dance to the tune of wealthy elites and powerful vested interests of all kinds and are betraying the best interests of the vast majority of citizens?)
It was with all of the above (and much else) in my mind that I watched and listened live to the opening and closing sessions of the Arab League’s 25th Summit in Kuwait.
With one exception the speeches, poorly delivered, were the opposite of inspirational. Words for their own sake and not for real commitment. When I heard, “We congratulate our brothers in Egypt for what they have achieved”, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What has been achieved in Egypt? Apart from the killing and arresting to put the Muslim Brotherhood out of business for the time being, the ground has been prepared for the coming to power of another tyrant who might well be more repressive than any of his predecessors. Congratulations for that?
There was much talk of the “phenomenon of terrorism” and the need to combat it. The more I thought about what I heard and the more I reflected on what is happening in the Arab world, the more it seemed to me that the Arab League’s definition of terrorism is any manifestation of people power, even peaceful manifestations, in support of change in the way Arabs are governed.
The exception was Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN peace mediator for Syria. He dared to say, “People are asking for change.” (I imagine that most Gulf Arab leaders present regarded that as a deeply subversive statement).
At the time of writing the divisions within the Arab League seem set to widen.
On 5 March, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha because of Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jazeera’s coverage of events in Egypt. Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ailing foreign minister, apparently said that severance of ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the closure of Al-Jazeera (in Egypt only?) and the expulsion of two U.S. think tanks — the Brookings Doha Center and the Rand Qatar Policy Institute — would be enough to prevent Qatar from “being punished”.
Qatar gambled on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to give substance to its ambition to rival and possibly outbid Saudi Arabia in terms of regional and international influence, and lost.
Saudi Arabia is gambling on supporting former General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt (where the next Arab League Summit is to be held) to help keep change away from its own doorstep. Only the future will tell us if Saudi Arabia backed the wrong horse, too.
My thoughts about the Arab League’s apparent willingness to allow the slaughter and destruction in Syria go on and on and on cannot be expressed in printable words.
As I write I find myself wondering if future historians — I mean honest historians — will conclude that George Habash was right and Arafat was wrong. About what?
Habash was the founder and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) until ill health forced him to resign in 2000. Until the Arab defeat and humiliation of June 1967, he was a supporter of Egypt’s President Nasser and looked to him to lead the struggle to liberate Palestine, all of it. After the Six Days War Habash changed his mind. He said to Arafat (in a coffee shop in Damascus) that the key to liberating Palestine was the overthrow of the corrupt and impotent regimes of the then existing Arab Order and that PLO should lead the revolution to make it happen. Habash argued that it could happen because the Palestinian cause was alive and well in the hearts and minds of the Arab masses everywhere and more and more Arabs were becoming aware that their regimes had betrayed the cause.
Arafat said that would be a wrong policy and that under his leadership the PLO would never interfere in the internal affairs of Arab states.
For the record… The Israeli and American version of history which asserts that Arafat sought to overthrow King Hussein and take over Jordan in Black September 1970 is nonsense. As I documented in detail in my book Arafat -Terrorist or Peacemaker?, Arafat was working WITH Hussein to try to prevent Habash’s PFLP and other Palestinian fringe groups provoking a confrontation with the Jordanian army. This was confirmed to me by King Hussein himself.
Israel and America would not have been able to misrepresent what happened if Arafat had used Fatah’s superior forces to disarm the PFLP and crush it if necessary. I asked him why he did not do so. He said that if he had triggered a Palestinian civil war, Israeli and other agents would have used it as a cover to assassinate many Fatah and other Palestinian leaders. That made sense to me.
The whole story about what really happened and why in Jordan in September 1970 (I was there for the BBC’s Panorama programme) includes the fact that King Hussein did not want to move against the PLO. So why did he?
Some years later I got the truth during a remarkably frank, private conversation with him. I said that in September 1970 an excellent source (actually it was the British ambassador) told me that His Majesty only gave his generals the order to move against the PLO after some of them, led by his uncle and in response to an instruction from Henry Kissinger, had called on him at the palace and said, “If you don’t give us the order to go, we’ll lock you in the toilet and get on with it.”
I asked Hussein if that was true. He smiled sadly, very sadly, and said, “It wasn’t the toilet they were going to lock me in.”