Fifty Years to the Khartoum Resolution – Did No Mean No?

The Arab response to the humiliating defeat in the Six-Day War was to spurn Israel with the infamous “Three No’s”. They lost this campaign as well.

Arab Leaders meeting in Khartoum after the Six-Day War

The Arab-Israeli conflict did not end with Israel’s resounding victory in the Six-Day War of course. After their initial shock, the Arab nations met to assess the situation and decide on a new plan of action. While Israel hoped common sense would prevail, the Arab world had different ideas. The first of September this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Khartoum Resolution – The statement issued at the conclusion of the Arab League summit which convened following the War in 1967. The Arab declaration became known as “The Three No’s”: no to peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.

This past June we marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War in Israel. It was a festive celebration of the victory over Arab enemies who sought the total annihilation of every Jewish man, woman and child in the country. In June 1967 Israel faced overwhelming odds and was vastly outnumbered by the Arab military force. Worse still, we were abandoned by a passive international community. They offered no real objection to the Arab declared intention of genocide, all this just two decades after experiencing the Holocaust in Europe. The result of the war seemed then and can be considered to this day as nothing less than miraculous. The return to biblical ancestral lands and especially the liberation of Jerusalem after 2000 years were just the icing on the cake.

In the aftermath of the war, feelings of relief and the euphoria prevailed in Israeli society. The government of Israel actually hoped that Arab countries would realize the futility of their policy since 1947.  The thinking was that the Arabs had tired of trying to eliminate Israel through war and aggression and instead seek to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. It has been well documented how Israeli Defense Minister at the time, Moshe Dayan, said days after the war that Israel “was waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders. Foreign Minister Abba Eban asserted that “everything is negotiable”.  While vowing not to return to the vulnerable armistice lines of 1949 or to a divided Jerusalem, the Israeli government let it be known, through both open and secret channels, that it is willing to be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms,” in direct talks with Arab countries, in return for suitable security arrangements and normalized relations as stated by Eban.

80 days after their colossal defeat at the hands Israel, the leaders of the Arab countries convened an Arab League Summit. Their intention was to coordinate a unified position in the shadow of the unexpected consequences they suffered in the Six-Day War.

Despite the fact that in the weeks following the Six-Day War, Egyptian President Nasser made belligerent statements and several violent incidents occurred along the border, Israel still hoped the Arabs would respond to the peaceful overtures it made. Initially it seemed this would be possible, as King Hussein of Jordan and even Nasser came to the summit in Khartoum, Sudan proposing compromises. These included an end to the state of conflict with Israel in return for the withdrawal from the territories acquired during the war. Other proposals were for arrangements to be made for Jewish access to the holy sites in Jerusalem, Israel shipping through the Strait of Tiran and cargoes passing through the Suez Canal.

Israel on its part wanted direct negotiations and full recognition. Still, this was certainly a starting point for negotiations in the eyes of the Israeli government. Our hopes were obviously dashed with the final declaration of the Khartoum Resolution’s “Three No’s”.

The Arab League sided with the positions of the rejectionist faction which included Syria, Iraq and the PLO. They 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 the West. The summit issued a statement where as the Arab countries would unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of Israeli aggression. They sought to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from what they considered Arab lands and insisted on obtaining the rights of a Palestinian people in their own country.

The statement was met with grave disappointment in Israel. The Arab League decision in Khartoum was as monumental as the Six-Day War itself in defining international attitudes to the situation in the Middle East. It affects the internal political debate in Israel to this day, though occurring fifty years ago.

Despite the Arab position in the Khartoum Resolution, much has changed in the Middle East since then. The two Arab countries that sacrificed the most in the conflict with Israel understood the futility of the armed conflict. It took another round of violence but Egypt and Jordan eventually rejected the “no’s” of  Khartoum. They consequently signed peace treaties with Israel and received what they originally expected, without the unnecessary loss of additional life. Interestingly, these are also the two countries that have so far best fared the Arab Spring upheaval that has torn apart Arab countries.

Israel for its part achieved the goals it set following the Six-Day War. We have not returned to the vulnerable pre-67 borders and maintain control over Jerusalem. We have indeed been “unbelievably generous” in concessions made for peace. This at considerable risk and expense of human life. Especially true with respect to the attempts at resolving the conflict with the PLO. Unlike the governments (sadly it is not always the people’s feelings) of Egypt and Jordan, who completely broke from the Khartoum Resolution, the PLO and Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip have not. In return for signing treaties with Israel they received recognition, international standing, and governmental autonomy. Yet, in many aspects, they deceivingly maintain loyalty to the rejectionist factions and continue to encourage armed struggle and a campaign of defamation against Israel in international forums. This conduct on their part is what has been the true obstacle for the resolution of the conflict.

With the dramatic events of recent years taking place in the Arab world and historic divisions among the Muslims coming back into play, other members of the Arab League are realizing that Israel is not the enemy. We are witnessing a shift in attitudes towards Israel. Yet with all the hope that comes with this, we in Israel would be wise to remember that at the end of the day we are not members of the Arab League. We are not members of the Arab family.

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