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This Week In History: The Arab League's three no's

By
August 26, 2012 14:19

After Israel's crushing defeat of its Arab neighbors during the Six Day War, Arab leaders meet in Khartoum and agree to "no peace," "no negotiations" and "no recognition" of Israel.

Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser takes presidential oath

Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser takes presidential oath 370. (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)

On September 1, 1967, the Arab League summit delivered the "Three No's" - no to peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. This declaration was passed as part of the Khartoum resolution, at a summit attended by eight Arab heads of state in the shadow of the Six-Day War, which saw Israel's speedy defeat of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The conclusion of the war brought with it Israel's occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Following the war, Israel felt confident that the victory would pave the way for a peace agreement with its Arab neighbors that would include withdrawal of Israeli forces from the recently-conquered lands, suitable security arrangements and normalized relations. Then-defense minister Moshe Dayan famously said, "Israel is waiting for a phone call from the Arabs" while then-foreign minister Abba Eban asserted that "everything is negotiable."



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These false hopes were soon shattered by the now infamous words "no," no" and "no," uttered at the Arab conference in Sudan's capital, chaired by then-Sudanese president Ismai'il al-Azhari. The summit discussed two main inter-related issues: “elimination of the consequences” of Israel's victory, and the possibility of measures - including an oil embargo - against nations accused of supporting Israel.

Both then-Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal and then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser brought “compromise plans" to the meeting. According to a JTA report at the time, Hussein proposed that for the return of its former territory, Jordan would demilitarize the West Bank, give Israel a corridor for access to the Western Wall, and end its state of belligerence against Israel, but without recognition. The Nasser plan called for Israeli withdrawal from the captured areas in return for Israel's freedom of shipping through the Strait of Tiran and cargoes passing through the Suez Canal - but not for ships flying the Israeli flag. Nasser would apparently also end the state of belligerence against Israel. Neither plans were acceptable to Israel since they did not include direct negotiations or recognition.

The meeting produced the following statement: "The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of June 5 (the beginning of the Six-Day War). This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.”

Then-prime minister Levi Eshkol immediately castigated the Arab summit as an "irresponsible" body. He expressed Israel's regret over the meeting's decision not to recognize Israel or to negotiate with Israel. "This stand of the Arab heads of state," said Eshkol, "strengthens Israel in her resolution not to permit a return to conditions that enabled her enemies to undermine her security and act against her sovereignty and her very existence."

Historians have given varied interpretations of the Khartoum resolution, and whether it was a victory for Arab moderation or radicalism. Dr. Michael B. Oren, now Israel’s ambassador to the United States, explains in his book Six Days of War that while the motion vetoed interaction with Israel, it also "opened doors to third-party arbitration and the demilitarization of the occupied territories." 

Defending this position in a study published in the Middle East Journal, Prof. Yoram Meital of the Chaim Herzog center for Middle East studies and diplomacy argues that the conference marked a fundamental change in Egyptian policy. Meital argues that prior to the 1967 war the Arabs aimed for "an overall Arab struggle, propagandistic, political and military, against 'the artificial Jewish entity." During Khartoum, Meital says, a far more limited aim was born: "obtaining Israeli withdrawal from all the Arabs lands conquered in June 1967, with a readiness to employ political means to achieve this goal." Meital stresses that the conclusions of the summit did not reflect the positions of Syria, Iraq, Algeria and the PLO, at the head of "the rejectionist camp." These parties called for a continuation of the armed struggle against Israel until the entire liberation of the occupied territories, as well as an Arab embargo on selling oil to the West.

Nasser was a major driving force behind the meeting, advocating a diplomatic option alongside a military one, and persuading the attendees that immediate military action was impossible since Israel had quashed their armies during the war. Hussein largely stood hand in hand with Nasser on this position.

While Egypt subsequently launched the War of Attrition against Israel, and fought against Israel in the Yom Kippur War, it was also the first Arab state to recognize Israel and sign a peace agreement under then-Egyptian president Anwar El Sadat, on March 26, 1979. The move drew the Arab world's ire and led to Egypt's 10-year suspension from the Arab League. Israel and Egypt have since enjoyed a lasting albeit cold peace. As part of the treaty, Israel withdrew from the Sinai and Egypt agreed to leave the area demilitarized.

With recent changes on the ground in Egypt as Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Morsy was voted into power, the peace treaty has come into question. In wake of recent terror gripping the peninsula, Egyptian authorities last week moved forces into the Sinai for the first time since the 1979 treaty. The move was met by silence from Israeli officials, who refused to comment on whether Jerusalem had given Egypt the green light. Following the move, Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reassured his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak of Egypt's commitment to the treaty, in a telephone conversation over the weekend, Arabic-language news agency Al-Hayat reported. It remains to be seen whether the new administration will continue to uphold this long-standing but fragile peace, or whether it will be swept up in the tide of no’s that still surround Israel.

JTA contributed to this report
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  • arab league
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • West Bank
  • Six Day War
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