Forty Years Later, Doing Nothing Is the Best Policy
BY YOUSSEF IBRAHIM
In this week's torrent of 40th anniversary recollections about the Six-Day War, one TV image cut straight to the chase: King Faisal of Saudi Arabia staring into a camera to say, "The essential point remains the total elimination of Israel."
The king's statement of principles was captured in "Six Days in June," an impressive two-hour documentary that aired Monday on PBS. It included footage from a September 1967 meeting of Arab heads of state on how to deal with Israel's crushing military victory. For all the noise about peace in the 40 years since, the Saudi monarch's silver bullet solution is still the basic Arab mindset, so much so that Faisal is still feted as a purist Arab — Al Arabi Al Assil.
For their part, Israeli leaders have come and gone since General Moshe Dayan walked up to reclaim Jerusalem's Western Wall, but none has improved on his formula — decisive force in the face of implacable enmity.
As do-gooders and militants reflect on what Israel should have done, what Arabs failed to do, what the United Nations ought to do, I vote for doing nothing.
Here is why immobility serves a higher purpose: Regardless of the peace treaties with Israel forged by President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, the overwhelming majority of Arabs need more time to dismantle their war posture.
At this point, Israel's primary antagonists in this conflict, the Palestinian Arabs, are no longer an entity that can be engaged. Having dissolved into a myriad of warring gangs, there is no one to settle with. The best offer to Israel from the "democratically elected" Palestinian leadership of Hamas is a hudna — Islamist jargon for the kind of truce the Prophet Muhammad offered his enemies, a respite during which the non-Muslim party should decide to surrender or prepare to die.
On the broader Arab horizon, the best offer on the table is a revived Saudi Peace plan from one of King Faisal's successors, King Abdullah, which demands a right of return to Israel for all 5 million Palestinian Arab refugees. As generous as this seems to Palestinian Arabs, half the other Arab countries in the region insist that it should be coupled with a rolling back of Israel's frontiers to its pre-1967 borders.
Clearly, more time is needed for Arab minds to clear themselves of their confusion.
And still more time is necessary for those who would mediate peace to contemplate whether what has been achieved can be retained. Egypt's 1979 peace accord will not survive a day if the Muslim Brotherhood succeeds in its decades-old effort to topple President Mubarak's dynastic military reign.
If anything, the Brotherhood is significantly closer to that goal now than when its terrorist networks succeeded in assassinating Sadat in 1981. Like Hamas, Egypt's Brotherhood believes in the utter expulsion of what its literature refers to as the "Zionist foreign entity," and it may very well take power upon Mr. Mubarak's death, an imminent prospect for a man now in his 80s.
In Jordan, since the peace treaty of 1994, the anti-Semitic discourse has grown thicker than a coat of tar, leaving little room to imagine that peace with Israel could survive a change in leadership. There, too, the Muslim Brotherhood is perched on the treetops, waiting to pick over what it hopes will be a royal carcass.
And in Syria, Bashar Al-Assad's profoundly anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and pro-Iranian government, particularly when coupled with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, leaves no room for peace with even the most dovish conceptions of Israel.
Indeed, it can be argued that, all around the Middle East, a no-action plan in the Arab-Israeli conflict will only help accelerate these rotting fruits' fall to the ground.
Moreover, no alternative is available. A lot of time is needed to see if there is any chance of ever going back to Iraq 2002, a place where even Saddam Hussein's rule of terror delivered more social cohesion than is evident today.
In Lebanon, a lot of waiting is necessary to find out whether it can recover even a modicum of the ethnic tolerance and civil discourse that existed prior to its 1975 civil war and the emergence of Hezbollah.
It is pointless even to think about structuring new accords with Arab societies that are relentlessly marching toward various stages of radicalism, Islamic or otherwise. It would not help, it cannot stop their macabre march, and it would not hold. A look at just the two biggest countries of the Middle East — Iran and Egypt — shows that recapturing the 1970s ethos of secularism and separation of mosque and state is an iffy proposition for the near future.
As for Israel, going forward with more unilateral evacuations, as in Lebanon and Gaza, has only liberated land for terrorist operations. But reoccupying either spot is unacceptable to the Israeli public.
All that's left is time, the great healer. The Middle East has had 40 years to appreciate the meaning of the 1967 war. A few decades more may convince all the parties that this is as good as it gets.
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