Sunday,18 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)
Sunday,18 November, 2018
Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Summit eyes Trump

What message will the upcoming Arab Summit send to Donald Trump? Al-Ahram Weekly looks for an answer

Israeli air strikes and tank attacks created havoc in Gaza on Monday
Israeli air strikes and tank attacks created havoc in Gaza on Monday

The countdown has started to the regular annual Arab Summit that is expected to convene in Amman towards the end of next month. This will be the first summit of Arab heads of state to convene in the wake of the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

Arab leaders who will be present in the Jordanian capital for the two-day event will have to agree beforehand on some key resolutions that the summit is expected to adopt. Topping the list of items for agreement is how Arab countries will accommodate and find ways to work with or around the new foreign policy orientation of Trump.

Arab diplomats who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly had two basic points to make: There is no confrontational message that would be sent from Arab leaders to Washington DC – “It is not even on the mind of any Arab capital,” as one said – and there is a keen interest on the side of almost every single Arab leader to build bridges with the new US administration.

Arab diplomats who spoke to the Weekly said that the Arab Summit would not in all likelihood issue a statement to denounce either the announced intention of the Trump administration to transfer the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or the unprecedented position that the new administration took to condone the “legitimate right” of Israel to build new settlements, essentially on occupied Arab territories, while considering that the construction of these new settlements “might not be helpful for the peace process”.

A Palestinian diplomat said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not counting very much on what the Arab Summit may produce. He added that the PA is already engaging Moscow in the hope that the Russians would make it clear to the Americans that their new positions on the Palestinian issue are destructive to the already slim chances of peacemaking and might actually prompt Palestinian anger to deepen “out of all proportions”.

This anger may or may not take the shape of a new Intifada, he said. However, there would be “a demonstration of anger, especially that the situation on the ground for most Palestinians, especially in Gaza, is close to being desperate”.

“The Trump administration says it wants to contain radical Islamic movements, but what we are saying is that by exacerbating the level of despair among the already suffocated Palestinians this administration would actually be beckoning people to subscribe to anger and maybe even violence,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Arab diplomats said that what the summit would try to do is to get the Trump administration to restart a process of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations with some sort of international support, given that the Palestinian Authority is willing to give another chance to direct talks that it otherwise believes to be a waste of time and the Israeli government is not willing to take any other path but that of strictly bilateral negotiations.

During a recent visit to the US capital, King Abdullah of Jordan, a traditional close ally of the US and the expected next chair of the Arab Summit, appealed to the Trump administration to consider some ideas to get peace talks started, if only to give the Palestinians hope.

According to sources that spoke to the Weekly, Abdullah received no commitment from Washington on this front.

According to the Palestinian diplomat, it is unlikely that Washington, which seems to be “only willing to accommodate Israel”, would actually go against the wish of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this matter “particularly”.

“If (former US president Barack) Obama did nothing for the peace process then it is almost impossible that Trump would; I know that our brothers in Egypt have some high expectations, but unfortunately we do not share the same expectations,” he said.

Trump is scheduled to receive Netanyahu in a few days in Washington, ahead of the Arab Summit.

The Israeli prime minister has already visited London to lobby support for the new positions adopted by Trump on the Palestinian-Israeli front, including plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and low-profile acknowledgement of the right of Israel to build settlements, against the backdrop of tacit US support for a groundbreaking UN Security Council resolution in December that considered as illegal all Israeli settlement activities on occupied Palestinian territories.

Trump, however, is set to listen to another point of view on the matter when he meets later with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has already made public statements about the potential commitment of the new US administration to give the peace talks a push forward.

Away from the Palestinian file, the Arab Summit would also have to send the Trump administration what concerned Arab diplomats expect to be a “subtle” message on the recent ban Trump imposed on the travel of seven Muslim — including Arab — states to the US.

Already some Arab capitals have expressed “understanding”, either openly or privately, on the new “regulations” that the Trump administration adopted.

The resolution that the Arab Summit is likely to adopt there would not contest the right of the Trump administration to pursue “necessary measures for the safety of its people” but would urge the US administration “to make sure that none of these measures are especially designed against any particular group of people or followers of any particular faith”, according to one Arab diplomat.

Meanwhile, Arab diplomats say, leaders meeting in Jordan would have to decide amongst themselves about the kind of response they wish to give to an expected request that Trump is set to make to several Arab capitals on meeting their “responsibility” towards regional stability, both in terms of finance and troops.

So far, the same diplomats say, most Arab countries are not expected to accept sending troops as peacekeepers in either Syria, where Trump has been talking about having safe zones for refugees, or Libya, where the Americans and Russians are talking about having a new political-military arrangement that could secure the end of IS (the Islamic State group) in the country.

The traditional resolution of the Arab Summit on maintaining the territorial unity of Arab countries that are facing conflict would be reiterated, maybe with added language about the responsibility of sovereign national states to take necessary measures to combat terror.

The commitment to work to fight terror groups in all shapes is something that the Arab Summit would adopt in line with the convictions of participating leaders and to the liking of the Trump administration that has announced the war on terror as a top priority.

There again, Arab leaders are not set to send any message of commitment to military cooperation as part of the war on terror; some countries might offer financial support and others might offer intelligence cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Arab Summit is likely to request the commitment of the world, including the US and other key capitals, to help Arab countries with the war on terror.

Some Arab capitals are expecting considerable American support in this war. For example, Egypt, according to an official source in Cairo, is hoping that the US would be more generous with its military aid, especially with the equipment necessary for military operations conducted in Sinai to deter militant groups.

Egypt is also hoping to get the US to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organisation.

According to a Washington-based Arab diplomat, it is not clear how much attention Trump will give to any of these messages.

“I think it has been a long time, to be honest, since anyone in Washington gave serious attention to what the Arab Summit had said,” he argued.

He added: “I think it is a well-known fact that Washington conducts its relations with Arab countries on a strict bilateral basis and it will have to decide how far it will go on any of the key issues, like the Palestinian file, or the war on terror on basis of impressions it would gather from bilateral talks, rather than from the resolutions of the Arab Summit.”

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