In recent articles in the Arab print and electronic press, Egyptian liberal authors wrote that it is up to the Arabs to take steps to advance peace with Israel. On January 7, 2008 in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, prominent Egyptian intellectual Dr. Mamoun Fandy proposed that the Arabs use President Bush's visit to the Middle East to demonstrate that they are serious about resolving the conflict. On December 5, 2007 in the liberal Arab e-journal Elaph, Egyptian author and researcher Kamal Gabriel wrote that the promise of normalization is the only card the Arabs have left to play at the negotiationing table, but that until they take steps to replace a culture of hatred with a culture of peace, this promise will not be taken seriously.
Following are excerpts from the two articles:
Mamoun Fandy: 99% of the Cards are In the Arabs' Hand
In a January 7, 2008 op-ed in the Arab London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Dr. Mamoun Fandy urged President Bush's Arab hosts to take dramatic steps during his visit to advance peace on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks in order to demonstrate to the West that the Arab peace initiative is serious. He also argued that Israeli concerns are legitimate and need to be addressed:
"The late president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, used to say that 99% of the playing cards in the Middle East are in the hands of the United States. On the eve of U.S. President George Bush's visit to the Arab region, I say that 99% of the playing cards, and a solution in the Middle East, are in the Arabs' hands.
"First of all, we shouldn't depend too much on President Bush's visit to the region. Visits by heads of state do not produce anything, for the most part. But it will offer media and political momentum. Perhaps this momentum will be utilized to move towards arriving at solutions to pending issues. And perhaps it will not be so utilized, and that which is pending will remain pending.
"Will the Arabs be able to take advantage of Bush's visit to turn the tables? Will the Arabs adopt a dramatic stance that throws the responsibility [for peace] into the American and Israeli courts? Such a stance would require a lot of courage...
"The truth is that there is a serious Arab peace initiative, but its credibility in the West and Israel is limited, in that the West, and America and Israel in particular, have not seen a translation of the Arabs' peaceful intentions [into reality]. They still do not believe in the Arabs' desire for peace... The Israeli narrative is the prevailing one. The Israelis say to the Americans and the West: We made peace with two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, and the experience has proven a failure, since in both countries there is still hatred of Israel."
Bring Syria into the Equation to Isolate Iran
"The powerful question that the Israelis ask the West, and which certainly finds attentive ears there, is this: What strategic return is there for the state of Israel in making peace with the Arabs, given the failure of the experience with Egypt and Jordan?
"The sum of what Israel's friends in Western societies repeat constantly is that the Arabs want a situation of 'not marriage, not divorce' with Israel – in other words, they want to leave things hanging.
"That given, how can the Arabs [use] the U.S. president's visit... to change this impression and win over American and Western opinion?
"Bush's statements have been clear as to the vision of establishing two states, Palestinian and Israel, [living] side by side. He has also been clear on containing Iran in order to ensure stability in the Gulf... It is no secret that the Iraqi and Palestinian dossiers run through Iran and Syria, and if President Bush wants to isolate Iran, the Arab key to [achieving] this isolation is in breaking up the Syrian-Iranian relationship and Syria's return to the Arab ranks. In other words, bringing Syria into the equation and looking for a solution.
"This is especially true given that the features of the solution to the Syrian-Israeli track are fully known... and according to the latest indications from Israel, the solution between Syria and Israel is possible and easy.
"What if one or more of the Arab leaders whom U.S. President George Bush will be meeting in his coming trip to the region secretly arranged to invite Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with them in the presence of President Bush? Let the meeting take place in Egypt or Abu Dhabi, for example. This could be the drama that changes public opinion in the West, the U.S., and Israel on the Arabs' seriousness regarding peace.
"This could change the dialogue completely. In the U.S. there are presidential elections that are shaping the American conscious. An event like this would force itself into all the presidential debates, and this is something that would convince the American people of the seriousness of the Arab proposal...
"This is what I meant when I said that 99% of the playing cards are in the Arabs' hand. Democracies yield before such political initiatives, because they create popular pressure in their countries. This is what Sadat understood, and he made good use of this.
"I know there are many among us who hate Sadat. For some of the Arab leaders, the very thought of their doing what Sadat did could be sufficient cause to not take the direction he took. This is not because Sadat was bad, but rather because there are elements that have succeeded in making of Sadat a traitor in the Arab collective memory. Thus, accusations of treason have become a limitation that prevents us from taking any courageous step.
"Those who are in the know about Bush's visit to the region say that the primary goal of his trip is the visit to Saudi Arabia, due to its weight in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and due to its global importance at a time when the price of a barrel of oil has reached almost $100 – this in addition to the special relation between President Bush and King 'Abdallah. President Bush does not hesitate, in any of his speeches, to praise King 'Abdallah as a man who honors his word and as a leader with great integrity.
"That given, why shouldn't the Arabs make use of this relationship, which is based on the mutual trust between King 'Abdallah and President Bush, to advance their interests?...
"On the Palestinian side, what is needed is the unification of Palestinian ranks under the banner of the Saudi king, in his capacity as patron of the Mecca Agreement. Instead of seeking the patronage of Jordan, as they did in the past, let them try Saudi patronage this time. Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas's recent visit to the kingdom was a step on the right path. It is inconceivable that at a time when the world has begun to agree on the justice of the Palestinian cause, we find that the Palestinians themselves are the ones laying waste to themselves through their internal division and factionalism."
"Perhaps the Time Has Come for the Arabs... To Seriously Consider Israel's Strategic Apprehensions"
"And perhaps the time has come for the Arabs, and the Palestinians in particular, to seriously consider Israel's strategic apprehensions. The Israeli question on the nature of the Palestinian state is a logical and legitimate question. Will this state add stability to the region, or add instability? The Gaza model says that it [will be] a state that in no way participates in regional stability, whereas the West Bank model indicates that the newborn state will move the region towards stability...
"As I said earlier, visits by heads of state do not produce immediate results. But George Bush is a practical man, and he managed to impose the Annapolis document on the Palestinians and the Israelis – even though the two sides announced, before the conference, that they had not reached agreement.
"The Arabs can make Bush's visit into an historic visit by focusing on working with the pragmatic side of the president's personality, in place of the old Arab way, which wastes the time allotted for the meetings by entering into the labyrinthine history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and by grumbling about a 'double standard.'
"The Arabs hold the playing cards today. The question is: Will they play them well?"
Kamal Gabriel: The Cultural Elites Have an Allergy to 'Normalization with the Zionist Enemy'
In a December 5, 2007 op-ed in the liberal Arab e-journal Elaph, Egyptian researcher and author Kamal Gabriel wrote that the only card the Arabs have at the negotiating table is the 'normalization card,' but that in order for this card to be credible, the Arabs need to uproot the culture of hate and replace it with a culture of peace:
"Many are the allergic diseases from which our audacious cultural elites suffer... but the greatest and harshest allergic symptom among the heroes of the microphone, the satellite channel, the car bomb, and the explosives belt is the allergy to 'normalization with the Zionist enemy'...
"The [purported] traitors to the 'unchanging national principles,' and the [so-called] agents of colonialism, think that 'normalization' is a goal for which all peoples should strive, and that wars and conflicts among all the nations of the earth must necessarily come to an end – and this end is always a return to peace and the reign of normal conditions – i.e. the reign of 'normalization.'
"As for the heroes and mujahideen of pan-Arabism and political Islamism, they don't reject peace and normalization in essence or in principle; they just make it conditional upon the preservation of 'our nation's unchanging principles.'
"While [the expression] 'our nation's unchanging principles' is fine and elegant, these principles are nothing more than the demand for 'destroying the rapacious Zionist entity' and turning Israel, through the return of all of the refugees, into one great democratic Islamic Palestinian mass republic...
"[According to these pan-Arabists and Islamists,] if the Zionist enemy and its supporters want peace, there is no need for negotiations and conferences... They need to accept 'our nation's unchanging principles' in a state of subjection, and let them return to us the land occupied since 1967, and allow the entry of 5 million Palestinian refugees into the land occupied in 1948. Only then can we consider the issue of normalization with them, and especially with the noble promises conferred by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, [i.e.] that it would allow Jews who immigrated [to Israel] to return whence they came without slaughtering them like sheep – despite the fact that they are basically the descendants of apes and pigs. And the Jews who were originally from Palestine will enjoy the excellent humane treatment that minorities enjoy in the other Arab regions!"
The Normalization Card is the Only One Left in the Arabs' Hand – After the Violence Card Backfired
"But let's leave aside the heroes, the valiant men, and the mujahideen. Let's examine the gallant discourse of the secretary-general of our illustrious Arab League ['Amr Moussa]. We find him saying 'no to normalization for free.' This, then, is the diplomatic-political way of thinking, which holds the cards in its hands in order to play them on the table, and in return for them obtains the most that it can – or, in our way of thinking, everything that we want. We won't give the cards to a rival as a free gift, so as not to be left only with [the option of] pleading.
"In principle, this is an excellent and unobjectionable tactic, which bespeaks a laudable patriotic stance... But in [its] practical implementation, two problems arise. The first is that this is the only card [remaining] in the hand of the gallant ['Amr Moussa]... after the cards of violence and martyrdom-bombers... led to adverse, calamitous results for our Palestinian people – the harshest of which are the separation fence, border closures, and roadblocks on all the streets, which turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a big prison...
"The second problem, and the more serious one, is the nature of the 'normalization' card... If, for instance, you play the normalization card against the card of withdrawing Israeli forces from occupied territory, we find that the withdrawal of these forces can be carried out immediately – within days or weeks – and the completion of its execution can be confirmed. Thus the believability of this card can receive material expression...
"As for the normalization card, which means relations of normal peace between peoples, and not just relations of non-aggression between states – waving it at the negotiating table requires proof of its believability. This depends on more than one factor: first, proving one's good intentions and sincere desire to carry out [normalization]; second, ability to carry it out; and third, guarantee of continuance [of normalization]..."
"The Problem with the Normalization Card Is that It Is Like a Check that Doesn't Have Sufficient Funds to Cover It"
"Now how does 'Amr Moussa imagine that normalization, his only card, can be traded in, and how can he prove to the other side [that the Arabs have] good intentions and the desire to carry out [normalization] when the Arab media, both official and unofficial, incites the masses against peace, against the rapacious Zionist enemy, and against the Jews, the enemies of Allah?
"How can he prove that the Arab regimes are capable of implementing peace and popular normalization when, with the president of the Palestinian Authority hardly controlling his own living quarters, the Palestinian street is contested by radical organizations of every kind... And this is the case also with the fighting masses in many Arab capitals...
"How can our negotiators give guarantees that normalization will continue, given that this is contingent on a culture of peace that doesn't exist. It is not absent just between the Arabs and the perfidious Zionist enemy; it is fundamentally absent among the internal components of the Arab countries. These countries have proven, throughout the years, their abject failure to normalize relations with their own minorities...So who will take seriously their promises of peace and normalization with the Jews, the enemies of Allah?
"The promise of normalization is like a promise of operations by armed forces whose arms have not yet been purchased, and who have not been mobilized or trained for combat...
"But in fact it is worse than that. The mission of preparing the capability and the readiness for peace does not just depend on a campaign of spreading the culture of peace; it demands first uprooting the culture of hostility and hatred that we have had an unparalleled success in planting in the region, and which has produced for us the blessed yield of internecine fighting in more than one Arab country.
"True, normalization is a vital need for Israel, and it is the only thing it is lacking, after they achieved everything they wanted in terms of taking territory and establishing a powerful state and culture [of their own]. For the sake of achieving normalization, they could go to the farthest limits and make the most painful concessions, as they put it. But the problem, as we have laid it out, is that we hold the normalization card in theory, but on the practical level, we don't hold it, and we are not able to put it in play and carry it out...
"The problem with the normalization card is that it is like a check that doesn't have the funds to cover it. In order for it to be accepted, funds need to be put behind it, and it needs to be stamped with an 'acceptable for payment' stamp.
"[This stamp is] the spreading of the culture of peace, first of all among our peoples. We need to start practically putting it into practice long before we reap the fruits, as that is the nature of cultural transformations. [We need to do this] in order to convince the Israeli people that we have truly decided to accept it among us, and that the only thing standing between it and final peace is just the politicians sitting down together and signing peace agreements. The Israeli people could then force its government to submit to the requisites for peace. I say 'could,' since it is also possible that we will offer peace without receiving the minimum of our legitimate demands, in which case our governments would refrain from signing a final peace, and we would retreat from the path of normalization..."