A group of Arabs from across the Middle East met to encourage engagement with Israel as means to both strengthen their economies and also improve the Palestinians’ plight.
A few dozen public figures from 15 Arab countries held a meeting last Tuesday and Wednesday in London, UK, to reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and encourage relations with Israel. The gathering, called Arab Council for Regional Integration, was sponsored by The Center for Peace Communications, an organization that “works through media, schools, and centers of spiritual and moral leadership in the Middle East and North Africa to roll back divisive ideologies and foster a mindset of inclusion and engagement,” according to its website.
The meeting was publicized only after participants had returned to their countries due to security concerns. Several members are expecting retribution upon their return to their home nations.
The New York Times was permitted to monitor the fully Arabic proceedings through a live stream on condition that it would only be posted after the event.
The group recognized that BDS has been an expensive failure, noting that it “has only helped [Israel] while damaging Arab nations that have long shunned the Jewish state,” reported the Times. “Demonizing Israel has cost Arab nations billions in trade.”
No Israelis were present at the gathering. In attendance were Arabs from Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the Persian Gulf including journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats, Quranic scholars, including women and young people.
MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew and namesake of the Egyptian president who was the first Arab to make a peace treaty with Israel, spoke. However, he lashed out at Israel for “supporting the current autocratic regime in Egypt” saying that it added to the “Egyptian guilt quotient” over making peace with Israel in the first place, according to the Times.
Historical Jewish-Arab Relations
Other speakers pointed out the historical good relations between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, according to The Jerusalem Post.
American diplomat, author and lead negotiator during the Camp David talks in the early 2000s, Dennis Ross said to the crowd, “[Y]ou represent the voices who say enough. The more voices like yours who are prepared to speak out, the more you will build your voice [in talking] with Israel, and the more you will influence Israel’s leaders,” reported the Post.
Mustafa el-Dessouki, Egyptian managing editor of an influential Saudi-funded newsmagazine, Majalla, was one of the council’s main organizers. He said that while traveling around the Middle East in recent years he has met many like-minded Arabs “who had kind of been waiting for somebody like me to come along,” including Lebanese citizens, reported the Times.
El-Dessouki noted that Arab news media and entertainment have long been “programming people toward this hostility” directed at Israel and Jews, while political leaders were “intimidating and scaring people into manifesting it.”
Jassim Mohammad, an Iraqi counter-terrorism expert living in Germany, urged Arab security services to stop the spread of “radicalism and hate” in the media, schools and mosques and to spread “corrective content about Israel and Jews.” He said that these changes were a “matter of Arab national security.”
Co-organizer, Joseph Braude, an American author and Middle East analyst of Iraqi-Jewish descent, said, “The sense of Israel being somehow a greater friend or lesser enemy than Iran is a factor here.”
Former British prime minister Tony Blair was piped in to the event. He commended the group for speaking out and nurturing stronger Arab-Israeli ties noting that it was vital to “any realistic possibility of an enduring peace.” He also called for a two-state solution.
Each member shared the view that isolating Israel had not been beneficial to the Palestinian cause and has also torn apart “the Arab social fabric, as rival ethnic, religious and national leaders increasingly apply tactics that were first tested against Israel,” the Times reported.
Anti-Israel Boycotts Only Harm Arabs
“Arabs are the boycott’s first — and only — victims,” Eglal Gheita, an Egyptian-British lawyer, declared.
Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, an academic, was the only Palestinian in attendance. He said that he lost his post at Al Quds University in Jerusalem after he too a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust in an effort to build bridges with Israelis.
Daoudi called for educating a new generation of peacemakers, noting the failed Oslo Accords, according to the Times.
The council’s members, however, stressed their belief that it is impossible for Arab countries to reach formal diplomatic relations with Israel without a resolution to the Palestinian conflict and noted that “polls show that when Israelis are offered the enticement of acceptance by Arab nations, they become more willing to compromise, even by giving up land,” reported the Times.
Notwithstanding participants’ hopes that Israel will give more land away to Arabs, history has proven that land-for-peace arrangements have universally failed to entice the Palestinians into negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.