Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Khartoum Conference and Egyptian Policy after the 1967 War: A Reexamination

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Khartoum Conference and Egyptian Policy after the 1967 War: A Reexamination

Article excerpt

The Khartoum Arab Summit of 1967 has long been known for the "three no's", barring any negotiations with Israel. This article re-examines the Summit, based on memoirs of the participants and other sources, and argues that, at least in the case of Egypt, Khartoum actually marked a departure, the beginning of a process which led towards a readiness to employ political means, and eventually towards acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. The differences between Egypt's approach and that of other Arab states began to make itself apparent during the Khartoum Summit, but, for various reasons, all the parties to the dispute continued to paint Khartoum as essentially negative.

The decisions of the fourth Arab summit, held in Khartoum, Sudan (29 August-1 September 1967), have been identified with "the three no's," (no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiation with Israel) and conventionally seen as expressing the Arab's world's intransigence, despite its defeat in the June 1967 war with Israel. Historiographic expressions of this argument can be found easily and in large numbers, in the memoirs of those who held official positions at the time, and in writings by scholars from various disciplines. Thus, for example, Henry Kissinger described the decisions of the Khartoum Conference as a sign of the Arab extremism that began after the 1967 war.1 William Quandt noted that "the Arab position hardened further" during the Khartoum Conference, as a result of the capitulation of the President of Egypt, Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir, and King Husayn of Jordan, to the dictates of the leaders of the wealthy Arab states.2 'Abd al-'Azim Ramadan, a veteran Egyptian historian, stated that the Khartoum decisions had shut the door on any possibility of a peaceful settlement and left only one option-war .3 The situation was described in a similar way by Adeed Dawisha, who examined Egyptian foreign policy and said that responsibility for the immoderate stance of the Arab position must be linked to the extremism demonstrated by Israel.4 Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir emphasized in her autobiography that the decisions of the Khartoum Conference were a further call "to destroy Israel, even within her previous borders," and added that "as far as the Arabs were concerned, nothing had changed.".5 Moshe Dayan, Israeli Minister of Defense at the time of the 1967 war, came to a similar conclusion, declaring that the Khartoum decisions closed every opening and chance for peace.6 Official sources in Israel revealed that Israeli intelligence had obtained the protocol of the central, closed debate of the Khartoum Conference, which made clear that the participants, led by Egypt, had emphasized the need to restore the Arabs' military strength, in order to attack Israel once again. Referring to the information in the protocol, Israel's Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, pointed out, in a policy speech to the Knesset: "I have learned from a source on which I have no reason to cast any doubt, that Egypt's President, Jamal 'Abd al Nasir, said in the Khartoum Conference, which took place at the end of August this year: 'We must again be able not only to defend our country, but also, as soon as possible, prepare our army to attack Israel, with the assurance of victory.'"7

The central thesis of this paper is that the description of the Khartoum Summit as "rejectionist" is inaccurate, and contradicts the positions heard in the conference debates, which were also expressed in its decisions. The Khartoum Conference did not create a pan-Arab consensus that afterward supported a radical line against Israel. The decisions of the conference did not intend to propose an overall solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but focused on measures to be adopted in an effort to regain the lands captured by Israel in the 1967 war. In this regard there was a significant innovation: Egypt, under the leadership of 'Abd al-Nasir, joined Jordan and Saudi Arabia in promoting a resolution to adopt a political solution and the use of diplomatic measures to solve the crisis. …

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