June 13, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6961

Egyptian Writers Debate Possibility That Israel Will Join Arab League After Resolution Of Conflict With Palestinians

June 13, 2017
Egypt, Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 6961

Following the Arab League summit in Jordan, in late April 2017, Egyptian businessman Salah Diab, owner of the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm who goes by the pen name Newton, published an exchange between himself and Egyptian physician Yahya Nour Al-Din Taraf regarding the possibility of Israel joining the Arab League once the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is resolved. The idea was raised by Dr. Taraf in a letter he wrote to Newton, in which he noted that Comoros had joined the Arab League in 1993 despite its geographical distance from the Arab world and despite the fact that Arabic was only its third official language, while Israel is situated in the middle of the Arab world and Arabic is its second official language. Newton responded favorably to the idea and noted that it corresponded to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. He added that it had already been proposed in 1965 by Tunisia's first president Al-Habib Bourguiba as part of his call to end the conflict with Israel.

This exchange, which was published by Newton in his newspaper on April 1, 2017, sparked a critical response from 'Abd Al-'Aal Al-Baqouri, a columnist for the official newspaper Al-Gomhouriyya. He wrote that in raising this idea, Newton and Taraf were ignoring the fact that Israel is an aggressive country that has thwarted a long series of peace initiatives over the years. The official Arab position on the resolution of the conflict with Israel, he stated, demands several things from Israel, adding that there is no justification for making advance concessions, for example by considering Israel's incorporation into the Arab League.

The following are excerpts from the exchange between Newton and Dr. Taraf and from Al-Baqouri's response.

Salah Diab (image: Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt, June 21, 2014)

Al-Masri Al-Yawm Owner: "Fifty-Two Years Later, Everyone Finally Sees What Bourguiba Saw" In 1965

In his letter to Newton, Dr. Taraf wrote: "Dear Newton, in your latest article from last Thursday, titled 'On the Summit,' you mentioned the fact that the Arab [League] summit had been held at the Dead Sea, a stone's throw from Israel. I take this opportunity to ask: Is there anything in the Arab League's charter that prevents Israel from joining it? Or, in other words: What qualifies an Arab country to join the League if it wishes? Recently [in 1993,] the Arab League welcomed the Comoros [as a member]; as you know, the Comoros are far to the south and beyond the boundaries of the Arab homeland, and the languages spoken there are Comorian, French, and Arabic. Israel, on the other hand, lies in the heart of the Arab world, Arabic is its second official language after Hebrew, and 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. Therefore, would Israel not meet the criteria for membership in the league, if it requested to join it?

"Some may say that Israel is a usurping country that occupies an Arab country that is a member of the [Arab] League – Palestine – and this prevents its joining [the League] according to the League's charter. In that case, if the Israelis and Palestinians reach a comprehensive and just solution to the Palestinian problem, will that remove the obstacles to Israel's joining the league?

"[Signed,] Dr. Yahya Nour Al-Din Tarraf." [1]

Newton responded as follows:

"On September 17, 1965, the Arab foreign ministers, who had convened in Casablanca, rejected the memo sent by [the first president of Tunisia] Al-Habib Bourguiba in April of that year, in which he demanded an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all, by means of three main moves: Arab acceptance of the principle of partition; an immediate declaration of a Palestinian state; and the admission of Israel as a honorary member of the Arab League.[2]

"At the time, [Egyptian] President [Gamal] 'Abd Al-Nasser harshly attacked this proposal. The entire Arab press blasted Bourguiba for his peace plan. During the Palestinian conference held at League headquarters in Cairo [in 1965], 'Abd Al-Nasser said: 'Bourguiba's statements constitute treason against the Arabs and Arabism, and they do not serve anyone other than Israel and the Zionist movement.' In a press statement responding to the rejection [of his proposal] by the Arab foreign ministers, Bourguiba said: 'What the Arabs can achieve today, they will never be able to achieve tomorrow.'

"Time has proven Bourguiba 100% right. [Saudi] King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz made the same proposal [i.e. in the form of the Arab Peace Initiative] at the 2002 Beirut summit, and during the recent summit, on the shores of the Dead Sea, all the Arabs proposed [the same thing]: Comprehensive peace with Israel according to the same conditions that [Bourguiba] put forth. Fifty-two years later, everyone finally sees what Bourguiba saw back then." [3]

Egyptian Journalist Responds: You Are Ignoring Israel's Aggression And Rejection Of Peace

As stated, the exchange between Newton and Dr. Taraf prompted criticism from 'Abd Al-'Aal Al-Baqouri, a columnist for the official Al-Gomhouriyya daily. He wrote: "Dr. Yahya [Nour Al-Din Taraf] can surely answer his own question [as to whether Israel should join the Arab League], for he is familiar with the terms of membership [in it]... As everyone knows, Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti and Comoro... are sovereign states with established and recognized borders, as required by the terms of membership in the Arab League [as set out in its] charter.[4]  How different [these countries are] from Israel in this sense. To which Israel is Dr. Yahya Nour Al-Din Taraf referring? Israel according to the partition plan of 1947? Israel after the 1948 war? Israel after the 1956 aggression or after the occupation of Sinai? Israel after the statement of [David] Ben Gurion, its prime minister at the time, who said to the Knesset: 'We have returned to the Western fatherland?'[5] Israel after the aggression of 1967? Israel after the withdrawal from Sinai? [Israel] after the withdrawal from Gaza and its besieging of it? Israel, some of whose leaders announced today that they want to annex the Jordan Valley or Eastern Jordan or various other parts of Arab countries bordering Palestine, so as to achieve what they call 'greater Israel'?...

"Moreover, in mentioning Bourguiba and reiterating his 1965 statements... [Newton] ignored Israel's imperialist aggression in 1967, the consequences of which burn us to this very day...

"[Some] issues pertaining to the path or paths towards [arriving at] a settlement with the Zionists go back to before the founding of the Zionist entity. This entity was established in 1948, but [unofficial] contacts between the Arabs and Zionists began in the early 20th century. Furthermore, in the period between the two World Wars, there were those among the Jews in Palestine who called for peace and calm, but they encountered refusal and rejection on the part of the extremist Zionists. The 'official' contacts between the Arabs and the Zionists began after 1948, and especially after the aggression of 1967. Despite [the failure of] the numerous attempts [to reach an agreement], the Arab proponents of an agreement, with various approaches, refrained from reassessing their positions, their modi operandi, and their measures. In general, it can be said that they failed to understand the Israeli mentality that has prevailed since 1967, for had they understood it, these people – who are certainly honorable – would not have taken the steps that they did, but would have taken a step back. But that did not happen..."[6]     


[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 1, 2017.

[2] Actually, Al-Bourguiba proposed that if Israel complied with U.N. Resolutions 181 and 194, i.e. gave up a third of its territory, allowed the refugees to return to their homes, and agreed to negotiations in which the Arab countries would be represented mostly by the Palestinians, the Arab states would recognize it and then present further demands to it. Michael M. Laskier, "Between Bourguibism and Nasserism: Israel-Tunisia Relations and the Arab-Israeli Conflict during the 1950s and 1960s," Iyyunim Bitkumat Yisrael 11, 2001, p. 47.   

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 1, 2017.

[4] Al-Baqouri is referring to Article I of the Arab League charter, which states: "The League of Arab States is composed of the independent Arab states which have signed this Charter." It should be noted that no definition of "independent Arab state" is given.

[5] Apparently a reference to a November 7, 1956 statement by Ben Gurion, when he announced the conclusion of the 1956 Sinai campaign and said: "We have returned to the place where the Torah was given."

[6] Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), April 5, 2017.

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