|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
17 - 23 September 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
League backs Libya -- mildly
On Wednesday, the Arab League convened its annual meeting of Arab foreign ministers, with the Lockerbie issue and the Middle East peace process topping the agenda.
The League's Arab foreign ministers and delegates are expected to back Libyan demands prior to the handing over of two Libyans suspected of the 1988 bombing of a PanAm airline. In August, Britain and the US tabled a proposal to try the two Libyans in a neutral country. Both countries had earlier insisted that the suspects be tried in either Britain or the US.
Libya, which had itself already suggested the two suspects be tried in a neutral country, given the absence of an extradition treaty with either nation, ruled out cooperation in the absence of guarantees that its two citizens would be given a fair trial. Both the US and Britain insist that their proposal is "non-negotiable."
The League will also call for Arab states to suspend sanctions against Libya once an agreement has been reached on these guarantees. The League will also back Libya in its quest to obtain compensation for six years of UN sanctions.
However, Libya seems unsatisfied with these measures. Libya has always demanded that the Arab nations ignore the sanctions in the same way the African countries did. African countries decided during meetings of the Organisation of African Unity last June to defy the UN embargo on Libya, starting from September.
It is unlikely, however, that the League will adopt such a resolution. In the meetings of the permanent representatives of the Arab League member states, held two weeks ago to discuss the draft of the final communiqué, the formula presented by Libya was softened in order to gain approval from all Arab countries.
Obviously disappointed with Arab reluctance to defy the embargo, Libya tried to apply pressure by announcing that it would abolish its ministerial portfolio charged with promoting Arab unity. At the same time, the Libyan media emphasised that the country belonged to the African continent and stressed the importance of African unity, both politically and economically, in the face of foreign threats.
The Middle East peace process is also high on the agenda. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who delivered a speech in the opening session, focused on the importance of declaring a Palestinian state in May 1999.
"We badly need the support of our (Arab) nation to create our independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, on May 4th 1999," Arafat said. He added that the Palestinian leadership had decided to adopt several measures to secure international support for the Palestinian state once it is declared and that "there will be a national political mobilisation."
Arafat explained that these moves were necessary to confront what he said were plans by the Israeli army "to invade Palestinian self-rule areas" once a Palestinian state is declared.
Arab ministers will discuss the Israeli policy of expanding and building new Jewish settlements. In a report that was delivered to the meeting, Secretary-general of the Arab League, Esmat Abdel-Meguid said that Israel is trying to create an "empire" by usurping Arab lands. He also accused Israel of using delaying tactics in order to expand its boundaries. "Israel's acceptance of some solutions and its participation in some meetings with Arabs and international parties is only a manoeuvre to gain time... to implement its aggressive policy against [Arab] lands," the report said.
Negotiations are currently stalled between Israelis and Palestinians due to Israeli rejection of a US proposal calling for an Israeli troop withdrawal from 13 per cent of the West Bank.
The draft resolutions include demands for international sanctions against Israel for its obstruction of the peace process.
According to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara, who will head the current 110th council round, the ministers will also assess the threat posed to peace and security in the region by Israeli-Turkish military cooperation. He added that he expects Arab ministers to unanimously denounce what he described as a pact. He criticised the idea of forming pacts and said that "it is illogical for Arabs to reject policies of axes and pacts and then accept the Turkish-Israeli one."
The meeting will also discuss the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and south Lebanon.
According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, the League's ministers will discuss Iraq's latest confrontation with UN weapons inspectors assigned to dismantle chemical and biological weapons. Iraq's parliament on Monday voted to stop cooperating with the inspectors. However, Moussa was not sure what would come out of the meetings on the Iraqi issue. "We are now involved in the consultation process to see what kind of resolution we will issue. For example, on Libya there is progress but on Iraq disagreements remain."
Terrorism will also be among the 40 items in the agenda. The Arab ministers are expected to call upon Britain to "extradite the terrorists it hosts." The meetings will also address last month's US raid on Sudan.