A dramatic turn-around towards peace
By David E. Kaplan
Ask an Englishman what most resonates about Khartoum, and the reply may well be “Gordon of Khartoum” who became a national hero for his exploits in China followed by his ill-fated defense of Khartoum against the Mahdists in 1885.
Ask an Israeli, and Khartoum is best – or worst – associated with the “Three No’s” – “NO peace with Israel, NO recognition of Israel, NO negotiations with Israel” formulated by an Arab League summit held in the Sudanese capital shortly after the end of the Six-Day War.
Fifty-three years after the emphatic “Three No’s” Khartoum Declaration of 1967, the Israeli perception of Khartoum may now be due for a positive reset.
The deal brokered – if not quite yet “full diplomatic relations” – is sounding increasingly like “three yeses”:
“YES to peace with Israel, YES to recognition of Israel, and YES to negotiations with it.”
This is good news for the Sudan, Israel and Africa. The continent can only benefit from closer ties with the Jewish state notably in areas of agriculture, hydrology, energy, hi-tech, health and security. Both Israelis and the peoples of Africa share not only similar visions for a peaceful and prosperous future but also share similarities in their dark pasts. Both have had to shake off the yoke of colonialism and persecution. There are shared experiences to be learned, to help navigate our journeys into the future.
How the atmospherics has changed since 1967.
Following the Six Day War, an upbeat Defense Minister Moshe Dayan anticipating an overture towards peace made his famous comment “waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders. Israelis hoped to hear – with good reason – that their neighbours were ready to talk peace. No less excited was Maj. Gen. Chaim Herzog – later Israel’s sixth State President who noted optimistically that “war had come to an end and peace would prevail along the borders.”
Bar returning to the vulnerable armistice lines of 1948 and 1949 or to a divided Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Abba Eban said that regarding peace negotiations, Israel is prepared to be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms.” Even Israel’s tough-talking first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion said:
“If I could choose between peace and all the territories which we conquered last year, I would prefer peace.”
The expectation of an imminent “phone call’ from the Arab world proved a pipe dream – until October 2020!
What will prove good for Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and now the Sudan should also be good – down the line – for the Palestinians.
However, rather than a ‘pat on the back’, the Palestinian leadership see the rapprochement towards Israel as a “stab in the back”.
This is a pity.
Imprisoned to the past by an aging leadership, Israel’s increasing acceptance by the Muslim world may provide the catalyst to younger generations of Palestinians to break-out from ideological incarceration. Remaining hostile today over yesterday’s issues and sentiments is a blueprint for stagnation.
Away from the senior Palestinian leadership, the once hostile neighbourhood has come to recognise the futility of persisting to view the Jewish state as a temporary aberration. Gone is the hope that Israel will “God willing” one day disappear or buckle under the pressure of sell-by-date movements like BDS, fast-fading fatuous musicians like Roger Waters and retread terrorists like hijacker Leila Khaled. The numerous acronyms for Palestinian terror organisations established in the sixties and seventies are mostly now forgotten or a distant memory of irrelevance.
The year 2020 heralds a new dawn.
Never mind the Israeli media, most illuminating is what Arab journalists are writing about these developments such as Linda Mnouheen Abdulaziz in Al-Arab, the influential pan-Arab newspaper published from London.
Appearing on October 16, Abdulaziz writes:
“A recent opinion poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute and conducted by pollster John Zogby tested the Arab street’s reaction to the recent UAE-Israel peace deal. The poll revealed massive, unprecedented support. For example, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, support stood at 59%, while in the UAE it stood at 58%. This data is congruent with what we’re witnessing on social media platforms, where Arabs are posting and sharing content that is welcoming of the peace treaty.”
An Iraq Surprise
Quite remarkably, Abdulaziz notes that even in Iraq, “people are commenting about the deal and expressing their desire to see a similar agreement between their own government and that of Israel. Some have gone as far as posting messages of praise and longing for Iraq’s long-gone Jewish community.”
“What is the source of this fundamental change, especially among Iraqis?” asks Abdulaziz. From an Iraqi perspective, he answers, that with no border or territorial dispute with Israel, the historical animosity, “stems from support for the Palestinian cause. But years of Palestinian political stagnation are taking their toll on public opinion. Iraqis also remember their common history with the country’s Jews – a shared language, culture and traditions. More importantly, the fingerprints of Iraq’s Jewish community are still very much felt, and certainly remembered, in Iraq. Iraqis reminisce over their Jewish compatriots as ones who were loyal to the Iraqi homeland. The name Sassoon Eskell, regarded as the “Father of Parliament” during his tenure as Minister of Finance, often comes up in these discussions. How grateful Iraqis would be to have another Eskell today, a time when their country is being robbed and depleted of its resources by internal and external thieves.”
For those less informed on Iraqi history, Sir Sason Eskell was the first Minister of Finance in the Kingdom and a permanent Member of the Parliament he is revered as its “Founder”. Along with Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence, it was this Jew, Sason Eskell – knighted by King George V and conferred with the Civil Rafidain Medal by King Faisal I – who was so instrumental in the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq.
The enriching contribution of Jews in the past is now being viewed as again something that could be renewed in the future.
As Abdulaziz concludes in Al-Arab:
“The educated Iraqi sees peace with Israel as an opportunity for cooperation with a country that has become a pioneer in technology, science, medicine, agriculture and water conservation. These Israeli innovations could help improve living conditions in Iraq, just like they did in so many other places in the world.”
These are welcome words from the Arab world media.
Fifty-three years after the “Three No’s” from Khartoum in 1967, the resounding message today from Khartoum is – Yes, Yes, Yes!
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