At a time when Palestinian-Israeli negotiations seem to be hitting another impasse this is a new book that re-tells the many details of the long and still unfolding saga of Arab-Israeli talks for peace.
"Arabs and Peace – between war and diplomacy: 1977-2010" is the latest book from Denise Ammoum, a Franco-Lebanese writer and reporter who has for decades followed the trail of the Arab-Israeli story and who is daring to confirm an account unlike many western voices.
"Arabs pursue peace; this is a statement that might not be very popular in the western perception of the situation in the Middle East," said Ammoum on Thursday evening as she gave a presentation ahead of a signing of her new book at the French Cultural Centre (FCC) in Mounira.
In the 305-page book that was released this autumn and is now available in Cairo, Ammoun tells the story from beginning to end. She starts with the social riots that hit Egypt in 1977 and as she claims, prompted a move by Sadat to search for an end to the Egyptian wars with Israel. She ends with the operation ‘Cast Lead’ when Israel bombarded Gaza. A postscript is offered by the arrival of Barack Obama, the US president whose commitment to bringing peace to the Middle East is clearly emphasised by Ammoun.
"Obama is an honest man whose intentions are to bring peace… and for once we have an American president who does not owe his election to the Jewish vote," Ammoun told the FCC audience. But she added hastily that the influence of the Jewish lobby should not be undermined at any event.
In "Arabs and Peace" Ammoun conveys to the reader how the pro-Israel influence is exercised over the US decision-makers from the start of the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks in the 1970s to date.
Ammoun's book reflects on other unchanging factors of the peace process in the Middle East: the wish of Arab leaders to put the blame of the failed peace talks on Israel and to avoid the scorn of Washington; the ability of Israel to negotiate tough peace deals and to simultaneously expand the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories; the Israeli poise in the face of the US anger over broken promises; and the openness of Arab leaders towards Israel and to peace proposals and loose assurances from the US – not to mention the ability of Arab leaders to keep appealling for peace in the Middle East.
In her lecture at the FCC Ammoun asserted that Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in the autumn of 1977 and the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Beirut Summit in 2002 are two major contributions for peace-making in the Middle East – were never fully taken advantage of by Israel.
The reader of "Arabs and Peace" cannot but notice the obvious pattern of consecutive Israeli governments that thought making peace is possible while denying Palestinians their legitimate rights. As such it becomes clear for anyone who is not quite familiar with the history of the Arab-Israeli peace process that it is an exercise in going round in circles: Israel speaks of land-for-peace but declines to return land occupied by military force and to obtain the benefits of peace, especially normalisation and trade.
Ammoun's new book does not reveal many secrets from the corridors of the peace process but it certainly brings the facts together to reveal the unsaid: beyond the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal, the Arabs' eagerness to make peace on the basis of international legitimacy has been met for the most part by Israeli diplomatic manoeuvres and aggressive military action.
But the book, as its author insists, should not be taken as a pretext for despair. "We should not lose hope," Ammoun insists. "Despair leads nowhere… and after all Israel will have to understand that it cannot live for much longer on its military power (alone) and that it cannot be (forever) in a continuous state of war".
Ammoun says it will just take the courage of more statesmen like Sadat and former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who both "paid with their lives for the search for peace in the Middle East". When? Neither the book nor the author seems to have an answer.
"Arabs and Peace" is printed by Fayard and is Ammoun's second book after her two-volume "Contemporary History of Lebanon".
Ammoun was born in Cairo, where she attended school before she went to university in Lebanon and then to France.