Israel-PLO Pact Ends Pan-Arab Solidarity

The decades-old dream of Arab unity, often touted but rarely practiced, has taken its final blow, say Arab experts

THE dawning of a new relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis coincides with the laying to rest of the myth of pan-Arab solidarity in confronting the Jewish state, according to Arab analysts.

The Beirut daily Al-Safir, a newspaper with Arab nationalist sympathies, lamented the signing of the agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), saying it represented ``the end of the era of the Arabs.''

Others are more optimistic. Jordanian historian Hazem Nusseibeh says, ``The Arabs are entering a new era of clear-minded realism.

``There is a realization now,'' he says, ``that war is out of the question, and that empty slogans don't win peace. We missed so many chances in the past by not giving considerations to all aspects of what was on offer.''

Before the signing of the Israeli-PLO accords on Sept. 13, the Arab parties had strived for total coordination among them. But the success of the secret Israeli-PLO negotiations has spelled the end of Arab attempts to move collectively toward a comprehensive peace with Israel.

Jordan followed on Sept. 14, agreeing to an agenda for bilateral peace talks with Israel. Morocco, where Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin flew after signing the Israeli-PLO accord, was expected to announce the establishment of diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

The ideal of pan-Arab solidarity has a long history, arising in the first half of the century, as Arab states won their independence from Britain and France. Much to the dismay of pan-Arab nationalists, the new states ``sanctified the borders created by the colonial powers,'' in the words of Sati al-Husri, an early Arab nationalist.

The subsequent failure of Arab nations to defeat the new state of Israel in the 1948 war spawned disillusionment with the old guard and ushered in a younger generation of Arab leaders, most notably President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt.

Nasser stirred the emotions of the Arabs like no other leader before or since. But he also raised excessively high expectations.

In broadcasts on the ``Voice of the Arabs'' radio station beamed from Cairo across the Middle East, the Egyptian leader predicted Israel's imminent defeat.

``The Jews threaten war,'' the Egyptian leader said a few days before the outbreak of the Middle East conflict in June 1967. ``We tell them: `You are welcome, we are ready for war.' '' Yet, in just six days, the combined military might of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria was crushed, proving Nasser's rhetoric to be empty bombast.

After the 1967 humiliation, Arab regimes rallied round each other, setting aside disputes. This period of coordination lasted long enough for the Arabs to take Israel by surprise in the 1973 Middle East war. They inflicted early losses on the Jewish state, which was able to regain the upper hand only after an emergency airlift of military supplies from the United States.

For a brief period after the 1973 war, Arabs successfully used oil as a political weapon, cutting off supplies to Israel and the West. The resulting sharp rise in oil prices brought fabulous wealth to the producing states, however, and they soon realized it was in their best economic interests to cooperate with the West, since they needed Western technology and markets. After a moment of pan-Arab euphoria, the oil weapon was withdrawn.

THE ending of the oil embargo and the sudden accumulation of wealth in the oil-producing states caused another split in Arab ranks. It ``opened for the first time in the Arab world the cleavage between rich and poor,'' says Jamil Mattar, a social scientist in Cairo.

The past two decades have been characterizd by bitter disputes between rival Arab governments, with the Gulf states distancing themselves from the Arab-Israeli dispute. As Arab regimes collectively failed either to confront or make peace with Israel, they ignored their peoples' desire for a common Arab identify.

``At the political level, Arab coordination was always a matter of slogans and aspirations that were never lived up to,'' says Rami Khouri, a Jordanian-Palestinian writer in Amman. ``Corrupt and unaccountable regimes, with very little legitimacy, never allowed people to manifest their feelings of pan-Arab solidarity.''

The historic trip to Jerusalem by President Anwar Sadat in 1977 led most other Arab states to ostracize Egypt for more than a decade. But the Egyptian leader, assassinated by Muslim radicals in 1981, set a pattern that is now being followed by the PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Like Sadat, the PLO leader took a risk for peace without coordinating his move with other Arab leaders or camouflaging his action with pan-Arab slogans.

Both Western and Arab commentators in the Middle East are predicting difficulties along the road to peace. But as one Arab diplomat in Amman argues, the PLO's public acceptance of Israel means that Arab leaders are now free from the strong influence of Nasser's nationalist and pan-Arab ideals.

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