Rediscovering the wisdom of Bourguiba

Right now, the best that the Palestinians — and with them the Arabs and perhaps many others in the region and the world — could pursue would be the two-state solution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in what remains of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza.
Friday 28/08/2020
A 2018 file shows Tunisian demonstrators displaying  a portrait of Tunisia’s first President Habib Bourguiba, in Tunis. (AFP)
A 2018 file shows Tunisian demonstrators displaying a portrait of Tunisia’s first President Habib Bourguiba, in Tunis. (AFP)

In 1967, between August 29 and September 2, The League of Arab States held its fourth summit in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in the wake of the stinging Arab defeat of the Six-Day War against Israel in June 1967, and the loss to Israeli occupation of the entire West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai.

The Khartoum summit was enthusiastically attended by all Arab kings, presidents and emirs with the exception of Hafez Assad, who was adamant on a popular liberation war which much later gave birth to the so-called “Steadfastness and Confrontation Front.” The summit is famous for its three-Nos, “no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel.”

In the conference’s closing statement, one could read that “their Majesties and Excellences the Kings and Presidents and their representatives studied the consequences of the June 5 aggression against the Arab countries and decided that removing the effects of that aggression from Arab lands is the responsibility of all Arab countries.”

Furthermore, “the participants agreed on taking all necessary steps to support military preparation to face all eventualities, and they also decided to proceed with the speedy dismantling of all foreign bases in the Arab countries.”

To help the war ravaged countries recover from their defeat, the rich Arab countries committed to paying the following sums to Egypt and Jordan, annually and in advance every three months, starting from mid-October 1967 until the effects of the Israeli aggression were removed:

– Saudi Arabia: 50 million pounds sterling

– Kuwait: 55 million pounds sterling

– Libya: 30 million pounds sterling.

The funds were meant for “rebuilding the armed forces in Egypt and other front countries so that they could regain their ability to once again wage the “war” of liberating the occupied Arab lands from Israeli presence.

Just two years prior to that resounding summit, the late Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba was visiting the city of Jericho, which was Palestinian at the time. On March 3, 1965, he gave a historic speech in which he urged Palestinians and Arabs to abandon the principle of “all or nothing.” He told his audience that it was a failed policy that only brought more suffering, bloodshed and tears to the Palestinian people, and urged the Palestinians to negotiate with the Israelis on the basis of the UN resolution stipulating the division of Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Needless to say, the bold late president was on that day showered with insults and accused of treason and working for imperialism and Israel.

In another interview in French with a French TV correspondent, Bourguiba confirmed that he had met with most of the Arab rulers, and made sure that they all agreed with his view but only in secret. They were all afraid of popular anger and of being accused of treason and betraying the Arab nation and the Palestinian cause.

A file picture shows Arab leaders attending the Arab summit of Khartoum  after the 1967 war. (Wikipedia)
A file picture shows Arab leaders attending the Arab summit of Khartoum  after the 1967 war. (Wikipedia)

Today, and after fifty-five years of “steadfastness and confrontation,” when we scrutinise the series of cataclysmic events that followed the famous “ThreeNos” conference and realise how much Palestinian and Arab blood was shed for the meagre results of the resistance, and the money spent on enthusiastic conferences imbued with revolutionary jihad and speeches on radio and satellite channels, we discover that President Bourguiba was a rational, realistic, wise and sincere Arab leader.

Right now, the best course that the Palestinians — and with them the Arabs and perhaps many others in the region and the world, leaders, parties and the masses included — could pursue would be the two-state solution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in what remains of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, and having the “Arab” Jerusalem as its capital, side by side with the other “Jewish” Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

Once that is done, and after all this time, the Palestinian Authority is prepared not only to accept the existence of Israel, but also to respect its borders, and not to prejudice its security or harm its settlers, and observe all international covenants and guarantees.

Perhaps the worst thing that the Three-No’s summit accomplished is that it made the Palestine cause a source of division and strife between governmental, partisan, religious, sectarian and tribal Arab and Islamic political groups, and perpetrated the illusion that aspirations, dreams and songs are our strongest weapon in the confrontation with Israel.

That summit blocked our minds from functioning rationally, branded as traitors all those who talked about realism and moderation, and made the Palestinian cause a source of material gain and profit for factions, parties, organisations and people. Parties and factions started fighting each other and even a number of them turned into guns for hire in the service of Arab, Islamic or foreign government or the other, all in the name of liberating Palestine. So, where is “steadfastness and confrontation” now?

From 1967 until today, and despite all the transformations and shifting alliances that have torpedoed the old balances of power and brought about new ones in the region and the world, some Arab and non-Arab governments, parties and groups still find it easy to deceive the masses, recruit volunteers and teach them the industry and techniques of booby-trapping and remote detonation, assassinating with silencers, blowing up ministries, schools and popular markets, and killing officers and soldiers in countries that disagree with their opinions and belief systems, all in the name of regaining Jerusalem and in the name of God, His Messenger and his family. In the meantime, these “brave” components are afraid of touching Israel and would definitely forbid their citizens or followers from approaching its borders or harming one of its children.

The sad thing in the whole matter is that after fifty-five years of being lost and tossed around, of disagreeing and fighting each other, we are now back to demanding what we rejected yesterday with pride and honour. We are satisfied with getting what only a few years back we turned down and branded even the thought of as an unforgivable crime of sedition and treason against the nation, religion and homeland.

What brought about the present ramblings was an article published last Friday in the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of the Saudi military intelligence and a former ambassador. The former Saudi official gave a definitive and clear version of Saudi Arabia’s stance on the issue of recognising Israel and striking a peace treaty with it. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set the price for completing peace between Israel and the Arabs the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, based on the initiative launched by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz,” wrote the former Saudi official. That was a very important statement, much more serious than the many other announcements, decisions and projects flung about the topic by other parties here and there.

We cannot imagine that Prince Turki would make such a statement without first being cleared to do so by the highest Saudi authority. This bold and frank proposal places the Palestinian leadership in a tight corner, and places with them all the other bidders on the Palestinian cause who insist on resistance and opposition, and on continuing the “jihad” until the last inch of the land of Palestine from the river to the sea is liberated, particularly the Khameneists and the Erdoganists among them, their parties, their militias and their mercenaries in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

The most striking aspect of Prince Turki Al-Faisal’s article is that his demand for normalising relations with Israel is none other than what the Palestinians themselves want, insist on and strive for; no more, no less.

What should be recognised without arrogance and far from emotions and daydreams is that the reality of the global conflict in our new days has divided the globe into two worlds, the world of America and with it Europe, Israel and its allies around the world—the Europeans, South Koreans, Japanese, the Gulf countries, Egypt and Jordan — on the one hand, and the world of China and with it Russia, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood plus whatever thorns, crows and snakes thrive in their fields, on the other hand. There is no escape for any state, party or group from having to choose to join, in one way or another, one of the two worlds or the other, out of necessity and according to interest or conviction.

And because the world never stops turning and changing, and with it our moods and interests, it would not be a shame for the Palestinian leaders to have pity on their people, bow to the winds of the new bitter reality and accept what every sincere, loyal and loving brother and friend wishes for them, provided that Israeli and American Jews are sincere about their desire for honest and unadulterated peace, accept to vacate the whole of the West Bank with no exception, and accept the establishment of a safe, independent and peaceful neighbour state called Palestine.

*Ibrahim Al-Zobaidi is an Iraqi writer.