Courtesy Reuters

Reality and Vision in the Middle East


SINCE early March the Arab world has been shaken by an angry clash of views about its relations with Israel. Arab thinking on this subject had long been governed by what Whitehead once called "inert ideas"-that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized or tested or thrown into fresh combinations. This inertia was suddenly broken by two closely related events. The Federal Republic of Germany sought the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel, in conscious rejection of Arab pressure. And the President of Tunisia challenged the official Arab dogma about Israel's place in the Middle East. In statements which had a broad international resonance, Mr. Bourguiba indicated that Israel was a solid and entrenched reality with which the Arab nations would have to come to terms. To dream of sweeping Israel away in a torrent of violence was, in his view, sheer delusion.

The German initiative and the Tunisian pronouncements are, of course, important events. But they do not in themselves explain the volcanic emotion which spread from Cairo across the Arab world. Germany, after all, is not the first but the 95th government to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. In none of the 94 previous occasions did Arab governments go beyond a routine expression of grievance. And President Bourguiba's calm but reluctant vision of Israel as a "reality" is less heretical than Cairo spokesmen would have us believe. Indeed, President Nasser himself often gives eminent visitors the impression that his belief in Israel's disappearance is far from immaculate. The leading Egyptian publicist, Hassanein Heikal, recently told his readers that the modern world was no longer congenial to decisive local wars. An Arab-Israel conflict would, in his judgment, be followed by international intervention; and the forces opposed to Israel's liquidation were not confined to Israel alone. These sober words were written more than a year ago. Why, then, do President Nasser and Mr. Heikal now react to cautious statements about Israel's

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