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Radical Reform and the Arab Agenda

Jimmy Bitton

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Since Israel's birth in May 14, 1948, Arab countries have waged four full-scale wars against it in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. In each conflict, the struggling nation managed to inflict a humiliating defeat on the vastly larger and better equipped Arab armies. Henceforth, the overriding question that has continued to plague the Arab world is why was a small nation like Israel able to crush the numerically larger and better equipped armies of several Arab countries, not once but four times in a row?

In his book, "The Arab Mind," the late renowned anthropologist Raphael Patai presents an account of Arab attempts to answer this question. In the book, one of the most influential of Arab intellectuals, Dr. Zurayk, argues that the war to "uproot Zionism" will not be achieved as long as Arabs remain in their present static condition. The road to victory, he insists, lies in radical changes in the situation of the Arabs, and in a complete transformation of their modes of thought, action and life. In Dr. Zurayk's words:

The roots of Zionism are grounded in modern Western life while we [in the Arab world] for the most part are still distant from this life and hostile to it. They live in the present and for the future, while we continue to dream the dreams of the past and to stupefy ourselves with its fading glory. In order to achieve their aim [defeating the Zionists], the Arabs must unite, become progressive, and establish a sound Arab being.

Dr. Zurayk's remedy to uplift Arab pride traumatized by the consecutive defeats is to attribute defeat to fixable "Arab shortcomings". Such a proposition offers a pragmatic solution to the "Israel question" whereby victory once again seems attainable. With a strategy for victory within reach, the Arab world is now encouraged to make revolutionary changes to their largely static society for the sole and radical end of destroying Israel. In brief, Dr. Zurayk has suggested that Arabs can achieve victory by making the "enemy the exemplar."

Accordingly, with this doomsday scenario in mind, one should become familiar with the great body of evidence available to us and include it in any predictive discourse. One of the reasons there has not been any genuine peace initiative coming from the Arab world is that peace without an Arab victory would symbolize not only a capitulation but also an admission of helplessness. Consequently, there arose the need to restore Arab national pride. It was for this reason that on September 1, 1967, at the Khartoum Arab Summit, Arab states adopted the dictum of "Three Nos" regarding Israel: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negations with Israel." From an Islamic view, Israel symbolizes a breach in God's law and a danger to the social and political balance in the world. Israel's victory greatly disrupted aspirations of regional hegemony, which is founded on the notion that Muslims, the bearers of divine truth, are destined to be rewarded with triumph.

On November 5, 1978, a resolution was passed at the Thirteenth Arab Summit in Baghdad following the Egyptian government's unilateral actions at the Camp David Accords of September 17, 1978: "The cause of Palestine is an Arab fateful cause; it is the essence of the struggle against the Zionist enemy." It should be noted that participants of the summit decided to boycott Egypt in response to its peace treaty with Israel. After the Taba crises, the Arab world resumed its ties with Egypt.

Egypt and Jordan both have maintained peace treaties with Israel. In 1999 however, Egyptian Defence Minister Muhammad Tantawi told his General Staff, "We must be prepared for war with Israel." In complete violation of the peace treaty, Egypt recalled its Ambassador to Israel in 2001. More recently, Egypt conducted an offensive military exercise where it identified its "hypothetical" enemy as Israel (usually referred to as "the neighbour to the north"). A recent publication by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace reports that the Egyptian curriculum does not recognize Israel as a sovereign state.

With regard to Jordan, there is a great discrepancy between the relatively warm relations between Aman and Jerusalem, and the sentiments of the Palestinian majority in Jordan who believe that the Hashmanite rulers lack legitimacy. In other words, though the government of Jordan has made peace with Israel, the overwhelming majority of Jordanians have not.

Dr. Zurayk's comments and the many others coming out of the Arab world today are indistinguishable. Though many Arab states have professed a willingness to recognize Israel as a sovereign state providing the creation of a Palestinian one, the sacred prohibition of making peace with Israel remains the secretive policy. The current sentiment of the mainstream Arab world as is frequently exposed is consistent with the official Arab position affirmed at the Khartoum Arab Summit.

At present, there are two opposing strategies being employed to destroy Israel: one being religious and social reform (an enlightened approach), and the other the encouragement of exegetically inspired ideas of jihad (a dogmatic approach). The latter is a direct outcome of the fact that Islam may recognize only religious rights for dhimmis (Jews and Christians) rejecting all national characteristics, while the former constitutes a radical, secular response to the challenge formulated by the Arabs themselves. Is it not a major contradiction (and ironic) that the agenda to destroy Israel serves to unite the Arab world, while the means being employed to fulfill this end will further divide it?

Jimmy Bitton is a Jewish history teacher in Toronto and a graduate student at York University.

Posted: 11/6/04



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