Arab League Summit: What’s Addressed, What’s Not?

The Arab League held its 30th summit in Tunisia on Monday. The meeting came while so far the bloc has failed to be a place where the Arab countries could settle their bilateral and multilateral disputes and bridge their gaps. The summit has always been notorious for the napping of the aging leaders during the meetings, with many experts mockingly suggesting that the only common thing you can find in such gatherings is the Arabic language the participants talk in.

Despite all these, the Arab public have raised the levels of their expectations this years, calling for leaders to take serious reaction to the recent US President Donald Trump decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and also Tel Aviv regime’s deadly crackdown on peaceful Gaza protest amid predictions that Washington will soon unveil its “deal of the century”. Other issues including the Syrian and Yemen wars, the recent massive protests in North African states, and the situation of women in the Arab world were also called to be on the meeting agenda.

Golan and Palestine issues, a test of bloc credibility

Certainly, after the anti-terror war winded down in Syria and Iraq with the defeat of ISIS terrorist group, these days the issues that take center stage in the Arab world are the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians and violations against neighboring countries like Syria and Lebanon that come under the unwavering support of the American administration. Israeli regime’s actions both destabilize the region and trigger Arab public discontent with their leaders’ passiveness.

The Arab League was founded to address the Arab world challenges. Britain raised a suggestion to the Arab states during the Second World War to set up their own union with the aim of uniting their stances from Morocco to Jordan. Their key mission was the Palestinian cause. Britain, along with other Western allies, offered an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, years after it effectively contributed to the occupation of Palestinian territory and creation of the Israeli regime.

The peace initiative, dubbed two-state solution, is now teetering on the brink of full collapse as the US president in May last year recognized Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Israeli state and moved his embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city. The move put to test the potentials of the Arab League to protect the Palestinian rights against the Israeli aggression. If the US proceeds with the deal of the century, which means fully ignoring the Palestinian rights, the Arab League will be left devoid of credibility among the Arab and Muslim world public.

The bloc held an emergency session on December 9 last year to condemn Trump’s decision to recognize Al-Quds as the capital of the Israeli regime. The closing statement pointed to the Trump measure as escalating the regional tensions and driving out the US as the main sponsor to the so-called peace negotiations. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has recently been tense and volatile as Tel Aviv continues to massacre the Palestinians and prevent financial, food, and medical support from the outside world into Gaza Strip. Resistant groups in Gaza, under Israeli blockade for over a decade, responded to the Israeli aggression with rocket attacks. As the situation develops to dangerous levels, the global and regional protests increase. Over the past few days, for instance, people in Jordan and Tunisia took to streets to announce support to the Palestinians in their struggle against the occupation.

Another obsessive issue in the region is the last week recognition of Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory by Trump. The final statement rejected the Trump measure to recognize the Syrian territory annexation. Although the Golan issue is ostensibly not linked to the Palestinian cause, it has been part of the US plan imposed on the Arab leaders to normalize diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Should the Arab world firmly react to the Golan annexation, Trump will find himself grappling with tough international atmosphere to proceed with Palestine-related schemes.

Deepening the gaps with divisive issues

But beside the main agenda of the meeting that can help restore the credibility of the bloc, some digressive issues were also raised, many of them backed by opponents of the intra-Muslim and Arab world unity such as the US and the Israeli regime, both of whom have been in an all-time struggle to sow division among the regional nations. Iranophobia and preventing Syrian return to the Arab League were two issues that were present in the meeting.

In the opening speech, the Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf once again went the way of baseless accusations against Iran, accusing Tehran of fueling sectarian divisions in the region, remarks read by analysts as a desperate move by the Arab kingdom to shift the focus from the Israeli hostilities against the regional nations. The anti-Iranian comments were also repeated by Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the bloc’s secretary-general, under the Saudi pressures. But except for a limited number of states under Saudi influence and motivated by Saudi financial sweeteners, the comments received no welcome by a majority of the member states.

The Syrian return to the League also faced similar antipathy by Riyadh-dominated circle. Damascus was suspended from the bloc under Riyadh strains shortly after the terrorist war hit the nation in 2011. A meeting held on January 31 in Amman, Jordan with the presence of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait to discuss giving back Damascus government its seat in the League ended without an agreement. On the opposite side, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco took stances in favor of having Syria back. A couple of weeks ago, Tunisia foreign minister during his meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov highlighted his country’s openness to re-admission of the Syrian government. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil of Lebanon in January invited Syria to the Arab League economic summit hosted by Lebanon. Additionally, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania traveled to Syria in early January and met with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir visited Syria in December last year. After eight years, Jordan reopened a major border crossing with Syria in October 2018, all signaling willingness to have Syria back to the Arab league.

But Saudi Arabia, representing the American policies in the region, is a major hurdle ahead of the return. Riyadh continues this policy, also ignoring repeated calls by the Muslim, Arab, and now global public to allow on the agenda of Arab league sessions other major issues like the devastating Yemen war, led by Saudi Arabia.

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