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Friday, July 26, 2002 | return to: opinions


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A bold proposal: Israel should join the Arab League

by Moshe Hillel Eitan

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JERUSALEM -- On Sept. 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the terror attacks in the United States, the Arab world should make a groundbreaking historic decision: offer the state of Israel associate membership in the Arab League. I present 10 reasons why this step should be taken:

1. If the Arab League grants admission to the state of Israel, this action would immediately reduce tension in the Middle East and pave the way toward comprehensive peace. As an Arab League member, Israel would be able to freely engage in direct talks with Syrian, Lebanon and other Arab states. The Arab League would be transformed into a progressive forum for peace.

2. Israel, as a member of the Arab League, could help boost the economies of Arab countries by paving the way toward an Arab-Israeli trade agreement. Products made in Saudi Arabia could be marketed in Tel Aviv. Furthermore, the Middle East could evolve into a stable economic zone and attract more foreign investment. By joining the Arab League, Israel and the Arab world would effectively end the self-destructive economic boycott of Israel. Business and investment would be forever separated from political strife.

3. If Israel were to join the Arab League, the historic act would help to bring about full diplomatic recognition and normalization of relations. The exchange of dialogue at Arab League meetings would be a precursor to an exchange of ambassadors and consuls between Israel and the Arab world.

4. Nearly 20 percent of Israel's population is made up of Israeli Arab citizens. Accepting Israel into the Arab League would also grant acceptance to Israel's Arab population as well. Logically, the Israeli Arab is a fundamental member of the Arab world. It therefore follows that this population should have a voice in the Arab League. By granting membership to Israel as a whole, both Israeli Jews and Arabs would have a forum to discuss political, social, cultural and economic matters.

5. Israel, as a member of the Arab League, would ease military and security cooperation throughout the Middle East, stabilizing the balance of power in the region and building mutual trust.

6. The Arab world and Israel could, together, develop a common agenda in the war against terrorism. Terrorism impacts all Jews and Arabs. No one wants to be a victim of terror. Instead, the people of the Middle East want a safe and stable region in which the strong are fair, the weak are stable and the security is preserved. A joint Arab-Israeli war on terror could help to crush terrorism and vanquish prophets of violence from the region.

7. The Arab world could also benefit from Israel's expertise in high-tech industry. From computer software to laptop computers to Internet security programs, Israel is known as one of the world's high-tech leaders. As a member of the Arab League, Israel would be able to share its advanced consumer technology with Arab states. In the near future, Syrian professors in Damascus could be utilizing Israeli software to teach students in their university classrooms.

8. Israel and the Arab League together could develop a joint tourism agenda. Currently, the situation of war, conflict, bloodshed and terrorism prevents large numbers of wealthy tourists from investing in the region. By accepting Israel as a member of the Arab League, the Arab world would send a message to tourists around the world that the Middle East truly welcomes tourism and leisure investment.

9. The Arab League should initiate Israel as a member in order to spur the development of personal relationships between Arab leaders and Israeli leaders. How can hostile strangers ever make peace? Does Bashar Assad have a personal rapport with Ariel Sharon? Of course not. It is quite obvious that a warm, personal relationship can enhance trust, communication and commitment to peace. By accepting Israel as a member of the Arab League, the Arab world would be effectively indicating that Israel is a permanent state in the Middle East. This act would help to minimize the atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the region.

10. The Arab League should admit Israel as an associate member for the sake of the legitimacy of the Arab League itself. The Arab League currently lists "Palestine" as a member, but does not mention Israel. This detracts from the legitimacy of the league itself. No longer would the Arab League be viewed as a one-sided institution promoting a hostile anti-Israel agenda. Instead, the Arab League would be viewed as a dynamic forum that is committed to peace, security and justice in the Middle East.

The acceptance of Israel into the Arab League would lead to a reinterpretation of both Zionism and Arab nationalism. The very idea of Zionism, for example, need not be viewed as a threat to the Arab world. Instead, perhaps the Arab world should embrace Zionism as a historic example of self-determination, military success and economic empowerment. Indeed, Zionism could be the engine of growth for the entire Middle East. The day may come when Arabs throughout the Middle East will consider themselves proud of both Zionism and Arab nationalism. It all begins with one bold idea.

The writer, an American-educated lawyer living in Jerusalem, was special assistant to Gov. Pete Wilson and served in the Israeli army armored unit.


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