Fifty years ago the realities of the Khartoum Resolution were beginning to sink in. Signed on 1 September 1967 it contained the infamous three Noes – No peace with Israel, No recognition and No negotiations. The mantras paraphrased the intra-Arab deal clumsily, became a propaganda gift for the Israelis and, in 2002, were rescinded.
At the Beirut conference that March, and then at the Islamic Summit in Senegal in April, they became the Three Yes’s – Yes to direct negotiations, Yes to recognition and Yes to establishing normal relations. Few in Israel noticed – little effort was put in to publicise the enormous move, especially compared to how the Khartoum Resolution had been promoted. Foreign propagandists also went to great lengths to ensure Israel’s supporters abroad were kept in the dark too. They continue to do so today.
For a time the principal effect of Khartoum was to unite the Arab world – exchanging humiliating military defeat for comforting solidarity against a singular enemy. Nasser, the Saudis and the Jordanians reconciled on Yemen and Black September respectively. Oil as a weapon for strengthening the Arab states, rather than for strangling enemies, became a common endeavour. Riyadh and others agreed to start sending their oil cash to the states closest to Israel, while ignoring Egypt’s increasing reliance on the Soviet Union.
None of this helped the Palestinians. One of the decent points the pro-Israel lobby sometimes makes is that Arab autocrats use hatred of Israel to deflect from their own faults. Arab leaders failed to grasp that arming themselves with more and more kit and conscripting more and more soldiers was nothing if the on the ground officers which lost the Six-Day War were not better trained.
The ever duplicitous Hashemites of Jordan reneged on the no negotiations element of Khartoum almost immediately, unsurprising given that in the early days of Israel they were as determined as the hardline Zionists to destroy the Palestinian identity. The Egyptians soon followed suit. Knowing that the Western nations would not come to their aid, nor that of the Arab militaries, the Palestinians turned their minds to domestic militancy, often stretching into conventional definitions of terrorism.
Faced with an Arab world united in principal but ineffective in practice, Israeli lawyers in the foreign ministry soon issued “top secret” guidance advising that settlement building on Palestinian land would be almost certainly illegal. This was advice the Israeli politicians ignored. They have used the Khartoum Resolution for the last 50 years to justify their settlements; perhaps the largest and most flagrant property theft in history.
Today, half a century from Khartoum, key Arab nations are uniting again. This time though, it is with the Israelis, and against the Palestinians.
The United Arab Emirates has been using Israeli security companies for years to build their own security state. They have been assisting Mossad with deporting Fatah and Hamas exiles back to face Israeli courts. The Saudis appear to have resurrected Prince Bandar’s plan of intimate ties with Tel Aviv, only to counter Iran. The Egyptian state, under military rule once more, is as close to Israel as it has ever been and is far more brutal than Israel in preventing aid entering Gaza. Only Qatar, Iran and Turkey seem at all interested in freeing the Palestinian people.
Yet still, remarkably, the narrative of “surrounded by enemies” is prevalent. Michael Gove, the fiercest proponent of Israeli expansionism in Westminster, repeated the falsehood at a speech to Conservative Friends of Israel last year. The liberal Jewish magazine Tablet repeated the same lie earlier this summer, as did the far-right Jewish Defence League. During their high-profile trustees dinner last year the major education charity World Ort discussed the importance of education in the context of arms production. There are numerous other examples from the columns of newspapers across the West.
This year is a year of anniversaries for Israel. I was at the Western Wall in May, watching a gloating Naftali Bennett dance with settlers, as a sea of white and blue flags filled the Old City. His security guards naturally pushed everyone out the way who wasn’t prepared to dance with him.
They celebrated 50 years of what they call the liberation of Jerusalem. As non-Jews, we alone were asked to circle all the way round to the rear exit rather than being let in the front. The stark contrast with the bawdy crowds outside were the Orthodox praying beautifully in the secluded halls, as they always do. They seem to be in Israel for the right reasons.
Outside, as rock bands played and the laser shows started, we bought mineral water from enterprising settlers who had set up a stall to service the great and dehydrated. They were carrying M16 assault rifles for no other reason than they could.
Myself and my colleague, another journalist, did not point out that it was 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, which said that Palestinian rights should be protected. There was no point. Curiously, thousands in the crowd were clearly not Israeli but Americans visiting, largely male and largely drunk. Trump had been in town just a few days before. And there was Independence Day to celebrate too. It was a Zionist bonanza.
The greater reason to celebrate was that 50 years from Khartoum, which laid the groundwork for Arab foreign policy towards Israel and Israeli foreign policy towards the Palestinians, Israel had almost won.
Far from an Arab world united against them, Israel now has the backing of the most powerful Arab states. Perhaps now we should start treating them like an ordinary country then, which is what Zionism is about.
That will require some very tough conversations. Given how “tough” Britain talks to our other allies in the Middle East about their human rights abuses we shouldn’t hold our breath.