Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two forgotten examples of historic Arab rejectionism

These are both very small stories, and as far as I can tell they have been forgotten by history. But in their own way they illuminate how hard it is to consider compromise with Arabs today.

A small detail in a story about the 1956 Sinai campaign from the Time magazine archives:
In 1953 Ben-Gurion suffered an election setback and retired to a pioneer desert community. Into office went Moshe Sharett, a modest, cautious lawyer who made some effort to diminish Arab hostility, to settle the problem of the 900,000 Palestinian refugees, to let some of them back into Israel and to join with Arab states in diverting Jordan water to desert land on which refugees could build new homes.

The Arabs rejected all of Sharett's proposals.
Here's another interesting find from the same source, from 1965:
...It all began with some remarks by Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, who often says out loud what most sophisticated Arabs say only in private. Returning home from a Middle Eastern tour in which he visited the Jordanian refugee camps near Jericho, where 71,000 Palestinian Arabs have languished for 17 years, Bourguiba declared that it was obviously impossible to erase Israel from the map by force and that therefore it made sense to accept its presence. He proposed that the long-festering refugee problem be settled on the basis of the 1947 United Nations partition plan, which would require Israel's surrender of about a third of its territory.

The West applauded Bourguiba's effort to begin an Arab-Israeli dialogue, but Israel's Arab neighbors responded with a bellow of rage. Two months ago, Bourguiba had infuriated Middle East Arabs by rallying North Africa to reject Nasser's campaign against West Germany. Now Bourguiba's Arab critics were angrier than ever. Government radios, from Baghdad to Cairo, blasted Bourguiba as a traitor, a madman "who should be locked in an asylum," and as a Judas "who should be immediately executed." Mobs blossomed in the streets of half a dozen Arab capitals. In Cairo, 20,000 students charged across the Nile bridge to Gezira Island and tried to burn down the Tunisian embassy. In Jerusalem, Bourguiba Street was hastily renamed by Jordanian authorities. In Baghdad, even resident Tunisian students joined the anti-Bourguiba demonstrations.

Compromise was as rare a concept among Arabs in 1953 and 1965 as in 2007.