20 APRIL 1991, Page 26

Arabist answer

Sir: I am late in seeing Mr Buchan's article (Well educated heads in the sand', 30 March). He misquotes me, not grossly but enough to change the tone of what I said and enough to persuade you (I hope) to print this comment.

What the Foreign Office Arabists have been saying for many years is: a) on Palestine, the Arabs have a case: they are not black villains and the Israelis are not shining saints; b) The Arabs' sense of grievance is deep and persistent and, since they are in- creasingly numerous and increasingly im- portant, it will be increasingly dangerous to international stability; c) it is therefore in Britain's interest to use its influence to get the world to tackle the Palestine problem.

These points are now widely accepted: all three parties have adopted them. But the Arabists were making them to minis- ters when they were regarded as detestable heresy (think of Harold Wilson, of Cross- man and of the disenchanted Arabist, Eden). The Arabists' preaching has played a part, probably only a small one, in turning the heresy into truism.

Neither the FO nor the State Depart- ment Arabists have yet persuaded the American Government (which is the one that really counts in this context) to take the necessary but vastly difficult action. But they have long been listened to in Europe and there are flickering signs, in statements by Mr Bush and Mr Baker, that the argument is beginning to make head- way in Washington, helped by the realisa- tion, during the Gulf crisis, that most Arabs are pretty angry with the West.

Does all this suggest that the Arabists have their 'heads in the sand'. Did they `delude themselves' or were they simply ahead of their time? Incidentally, neither of these quoted phrases is from Mr Buchan's article. They come from your editorial sub-titles, hardly justified by the text.

James Craig The Middle East Association, 33 Bury Street, London Wl.